Seven years into their career, now seems as good a time as any for Speedy Ortiz to make their next step up. You get the impression that Sadie Dupuis and company know that as well, with their third album Twerp Verse taking a good three years to appear after previous record Foil Deer.
The reason for the delay was that the band scrapped most of the initial recording sessions after the election of Donald Trump as President. The events of “the year of the weird” (as opening track Buck Me Off refers to 2016) needed a more focused, muscular approach – and Twerp Verse delivers on that and more.
From the opening notes of Buck Me Off, it’s clear that this is Speedy Ortiz’s most accessible album to date. It’s still not exactly an easy listen – Dupuis covers topics such as mental health, sexual consent and misogyny in her usual unblinking detail – but there’s a confidence and swagger that recalls prime-era Sleater-Kinney, as well as more familiar reference points like Pavement and The Breeders.
Everything that attracted the band’s early fans is still intact though: the strange time signatures that led to those comparisons with early Pavement are all over Backslidin’ and Villain, although the latter is most notable for its lyrics – an impossibly frank tale of a sexual predator who travels on the same bus as Dupuis (“he talks like he knows me, so I’m being polite” sighs Dupuis) who asks questions like “I want to know what sort of porn you like”. As she sings in the key lines: “He asks me these questions, did he earn the right? No way”. It’s a song that will be wearily familiar to every female listener.
Despite the grimness, the band’s sense of humour is still intact though – I’m Blessed boasts the genuinely laugh-out-loud line of “I’m blessed with perfect pitch, I waste it on songs you’ve never even heard of” and You Hate The Title becomes almost meta with lines like “you hate the title, but you’re digging the song”. Even in a song like Lean In When I Suffer, which deals with the inability of a man to deal with his partner’s panic attacks has a wry line like “Though he sensed I was trapped, he was busy with… something”.
Twerp Verse also boasts some of Dupuis’ catchiest songs to date – Buck Me Off kicks things off with an almost breathtaking sense of purpose, Lucky 88 has the sort of gorgeously fizzy chorus that Alvvays are so good at knocking out in their sleep, while Sport Death roars along unstoppably with a chorus of “Why’d you ask the question if you won’t believe the answer?”
It’s their strongest album to date, and while Speedy Ortiz are probably never going to make that giant leap into the mainstream – they’ll always be a bit too abrasive and lo-fi for mass acceptance – Twerp Verse is the sound of a band standing on the verge of great things.