Speedy Ortiz's 'Twerp Verse' Empowers Through Empathy
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The run up to Twerp Verse, the third record from Speedy Ortiz, included three vibrant music videos. Each one taps into the sardonic wit and playful imagination of its singer, guitarist and lyrical mastermind of Sadie Dupuis, but the video for "Villain" (directed in a crayon box array of retro colors by Elle Schneider) is especially powerful at distilling her message to something tangible. Recreating the campy feel of a monster flick, Dupuis is relentlessly provoked by a fish-headed creature, a surreal embodiment of invasive verbal abuse and physical harassment that women endure daily. "'I wanna know what kind of games you like,'" she recounts, before recoiling at these unwanted advances: "He talks like he knows me, so I'm being polite." Later, she sings "'I wanna know if a no means alright.' / He looks past my answer, did he earn the right? No way." — a dark inverse to her consent-positive mantra in "Get A Yes," a fizzy gem from Dupuis' solo project Sad13.
While the concepts at play in "Villain" are familiar territory Dupuis and Speedy Ortiz have covered in the past, she's never been quite this direct. Surprisingly, these themes weren't initially the album's intended direction. As the story goes, the band was primed to record in late 2016, but soon decided that batch of songs were "strictly personal or lovey-dovey" and no longer felt relevant amid the cultural and political shifts occurring post election. "Social politics and protest have been a part of our music from day one, and I didn't want to stop doing that on this album," Dupuis stated in the album's press release. The band shelved those efforts mid-stream and doubled-down to write new material that better reflected these turbulent, unprecedented times. The result, Twerp Verse, shows Speedy Ortiz at its most pointed and fearless.
With a Master's degree in poetry and a reputation for skillful, hilarious wordplay, Dupuis is among rock's more compelling songwriters. Across Twerp Verse's 11 tracks, she rapidly slings pop culture and literary references and shrouds her narratives in cryptic, visceral phrases worthy of decoding. And it gives license to speak hard truths and reveal personal anxieties — be it falling back into the familiar comforts of bad relationships ("Backslidin'") or mining contradictory feelings on love and commitment ("Moving In"). "Lucky 88" critiques the head-in-the-sand apathy and disillusionment of people watching the world crumble around them. "One more time with reeling / You siphoned out the feeling / Can't you act responsibly? / You're the sick pup who created me," she sings, before repeating "I don't care anymore..." with weary resignation. But Dupuis is best when wielding humor and sarcasm — and taking no prisoners. "You Hate The Title" is a withering rebuke of haters publicly nitpicking someone's opinions and creative endeavors, while still "singing along." "You hate the title but you're digging the song / You like it in theory, but it's rubbing you wrong," she seethes atop fluttering keyboards that belie her fed-up side-eye. "I can't, I can't, with your 'Just can't even's."
Recorded at Silent Barn in Brooklyn with Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader (Ava Luna) and produced and mixed by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) at his studio in Omaha, Twerp Verse is both musically expansive and Dupuis' most accessible work yet, a blend of catchy pop hooks and dexterous guitar playing. "Buck Me Off" opens with that signature Speedy Ortiz formula, and the band — comprised of bassist Darl Ferm, drummer Mike Falcone, and guitarist Andy Molholt — outright shreds with overdriven chords and buzzy solos piercing through murky distortion. Similarly "Sport Death" unfurls razor-sharp riffs that mimic the vocal melodies, and builds tension through off-kilter chord progressions and half-step dissonance. Elsewhere, they fold in pitch-shifted tones, pulsing synths, and laptop beats ("Lucky 88") and skin-crawling atmosphere ("I'm Blessed") — something first hinted at on 2015's Foil Deer, and honed further on Sad13's 2016 record, Slugger — and invigorates what can be tricky subject matter with immediate uplift and noisy catharsis.
That's emblematic of "Alone With Girls" and "I'm Blessed," in which Speedy Ortiz both alludes to emotional bullying and violence in past toxic relationships, and uses its platform to amplify the voices and stories too often silenced or marginalized. " Lean In When I Suffer," the album's anthem, refutes self-branded feminist allies who only appear supportive when they don't have to address their own privilege or problematic behavior. She's having none of that, quipping "I'm checking my phone / He's unworthy of talk / If he really wants to be the one, he'd forfeit shotgun for once..." It's in these moments, Speedy Ortiz's songs become about reclaiming agency, and finding empowerment through empathy. In that way,Twerp Verse is an album arriving right on time.
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