The steady churn of the average Speedy Ortiz album complements singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis’ vocal approach; she sounds as if she’s thinking through the scrupulously worded one-liners, bits of fridge door poetry, gnomic confessions, and tart toss-offs beneath which guitar riffs yowl with impressive volume. Recorded with her touring band’s rhythm section, Rabbit Rabbit, their first album in five years, doesn’t unfold much differently from its three predecessors, but that’s cool: Speedy Ortiz are good at what they do.
Rabbit Rabbit borrows its name from an incantation that Dupuis, as a child with OCD, changed for reassurance. Dupuis loves words because she loves her subjects; she’s after new ways of seeing the reassuringly strange. In “You S02” Dupuis falls in love with the city where cars cut you off from the right lane (this’ll get ya killed in Florida), a “helltrap,” but the glee with which she repeats “no escape” while her and Andy Molholt’s guitars growl their approval is a tonic (when Randy Newman wrote “I Love L.A.,” he had to ironize his affection). Dupuis gets away with it because unlike influences like Elvis Costello and Veruca Salt she doesn’t demand to be heard. She prefers squeezing her high-and-dry vocals between the instruments, a strategy that forces concentration on the band’s instrumental finesse: Joey Doubek’s hi-hats on “Kitty,” for example. On occasion, those filigrees prove so fetching—say, the wobbly synth line on “Who’s Afraid of the Bath”—that Dupuis can’t sustain equal interest in her obscurantist narrative. Elvis Costello can relate.
Happily, Rabbit Rabbit offers pleasures chewy and crunchy. Eschewing climaxes and long solos allows this Philadelphia quartet to preen in the best sense: Speedy Ortiz project confidence in their clatter, in the eel-like slitheriness of their tempos. If a previous generation’s wordsmith once offered the fabulous line, “I’ve got style/Miles and miles/So much style that it’s wasting,” Dupuis ripostes with “Rather than hocking I was spitting taste,” on “Ranch vs. Ranch.” The final track, “Ghostwriter,” with Moholt and Dupuis in Mick Ronson mode, shows they can rock in a straight line.
When Rabbit Rabbit stumbles, blame clumsily applied instrumental novelties and lyrics that insist on being congratulated for their bat-shit inscrutability. “Plus One” begins smashingly with cowbell and programmed handclaps but forgets they exist. Hobbled by a line like “a cactus, bristling, inflexible through lifetime specials,” “Cry Cry Cry” limps from its opening notes. But the smarts and spritz of Dupuis’ writing, and the way her mates fuss up the arrangements, make Rabbit Rabbit one of those albums whose complications provide as much pleasure as hooks-hooks-hooks. Speedy Ortiz regard their audiences as good friends with whom they can share inside jokes—knee-slappers and groaners alike. That’s rare.
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