There’s a distinct before and after for Northampton-based guitar rockers Speedy Ortiz. On last year’s Cop Kicker EP and The Death of Speedy Ortiz LP (both freely downloadable on BandCamp), guitarist/vocalist Sadie Dupuis did everything else, too, including “bass, drums, piano, cello, banjo, sound treatments, etc.,” with the end result often qualifying as endearingly ramshackle. In contrast, the “Taylor Swift” b/w “Swim Fan” single (available for a whopping dollar on BandCamp) features a full line-up, with guitarist Matt Robidoux, bassist Darl Ferm, and drummer Mike Falcone joining the fold, and the ’90s alt-rock polish of Boston-based producer Paul Q. Kolderie.
The sonic taste-test reminds me of two specific eras of ’90s indie rock. Cop Kicker/The Death of Speedy Ortiz are second-generation cassette dubs of a bedroom-recorded lo-fi solo project—think early Sebadoh/Sentridoh, Helium’s pre-Pirate Prude singles, or a guitar-overdosed version of Liz Phair’s Girly Sound demos. The inviting hooks of the highlights (“Speedy Ortiz,” “Thank You,” “Frankenweenie,” “Teething,” and particularly the key change in “Cutco”) deliver Dupuis’s sarcastic collisions of lust and violence. The combination reminds me of Mary Timony and Liz Phair’s glory days as the indie rock queens of beckoning with one hand and shoving away with the other. There’s filler here, just like on the original models back in 1992, but I’ve listened to “Cutco” more than enough times to make up for a few aimless companions. Plus, to repeat the obvious, it’s free.
The release dates says five months, but the sonics insist five years in ’90s indie rock time had passed before “Taylor Swift” b/w “Swim Fan” came out this March. With a full band and studio production in tow, the single recalls mid-to-late ’90s indie rock that unabashedly pushed hard for college radio play with big guitars, bigger melodies, and indie-rock referentialism. A specific comparison (that admittedly might be lost on 2012 listeners) is the Scottish group Urusei Yatsura, whose “Slain by Elf” from the Slain by Yatsura LP mined a similar merger of indie-rock culture with alt-rock production. (And yes, there is a difference between indie rock and alt-rock, goddamn it.) The chorus of “Taylor Swift” swaggers with newfound confidence and broader lyrical appeal (“Cuz now I got a boy in a hardcore band / I got a boy gets it on to Can / Then there's the boy sings those sad songs I like / I got too many boyfriends to see you tonight”) but I prefer the less-on-the nose sentiment of “Swim Fan,” which revisits the murkier lust of the earlier recordings. Both choruses have floated around my brain for weeks, especially the smeared syllable-play of “Hello magneto metal coney / You got bronze you found me out” in “Swim Fan.”
Speedy Ortiz isn’t alone in reviving ’90s indie and alt-rock, as a slew of recent bands—Yuck, The Joy Formidable, Cymbals Eat Guitars, etc.—has demonstrated a similarly genuine appreciation for the era, but what gets me about these releases is the specificity. There’s a key difference between sounding eerily like Where You Been and evoking memories of flipping through paper mail order catalogs (RIP Parasol Mail Order) and massive CD bins hoping to finally discover what some heralded but unfamiliar band actually sounded like, and Speedy Ortiz could pass for a great find in the latter scenario.
If you’re wondering how Speedy Ortiz will follow up “Taylor Swift” b/w “Swim Fan,” you don’t have to wait long. Exploding in Sound Records will issue the Sports EP on 10” vinyl in June, with the knotty guitar work and clean vocal hooks of “Silver Spring” out there as a teaser. (For a final ’90s indie-rock throwback, the EP’s title reminded me that Versus’s The Stars Are Insane had a working title of Meat, Sports and Rock.)