Speedy Ortiz

“Necessary brattiness” is the motto for Speedy Ortiz’s dauntless new collection of songs, Twerp Verse. The follow-up to 2015’s Foil Deer, the band’s latest indie rock missive is prompted by a tidal wave of voices, no longer silent on the hurt they’ve endured from society’s margins. But like many of these truth-tellers, songwriter, guitarist and singer Sadie Dupuis scales the careful line between what she calls being “outrageous and practical” in order to be heard at all.

“You need to employ a self-preservational sense of humor to speak truth in an increasingly baffling world,” says Dupuis. “I call it a ‘twerp verse’ when a musician guests on a track and says something totally outlandish - like a Lil Wayne verse - but it becomes the most crucial part. This record is our own twerp verse, for those instances when you desperately need to stand up and show your teeth.”

Twerp Verse was tracked in Brooklyn DIY space Silent Barn, mixed by Omaha legend Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley) and mastered by Grammy-nominated engineer Emily Lazar (Sia, Haim, Beck). The record pulls from the most elastic pop moments in Squeeze’s Argybargy and the seesawing synth-rock of Deerhoof and the Rentals. With Dupuis on guitars, vocals, and synths, supporting guitarist Andy Molholt (of psych pop outfit Laser Background) now joins Speedy veterans Darl Ferm on bass and Mike Falcone on drums - and together they accelerate the band’s idiosyncrasy through the wilderness of Dupuis’ heady reflections on sex, lies and audiotape.

Dupuis, who both earned an MFA in poetry and taught at UMass Amherst, propels the band’s brain-teasing melodies with her serpentine wit. Inspired by the cutting observations of Eve Babitz, Aline Crumb’s biting memoirs, and the acute humor of AstroPoet Dorothea Lasky, Dupuis craftily navigates the danger zone that is building intimacy and political allyship in 2018. Now as public pushback against the old guards reaches a fever pitch - in the White House, Hollywood and beyond - the band fires shots in disillusioned Gen Y theme “Lucky 88,” and casts a side-eye towards suitors-turned-monsters in the cold-blooded single “Villain.” Closing track “You Hate The Title” is a slinky traipse through the banality of this current moment in patriarchy - in which survivors are given the mic, but nitpicked over the timbre of their testimonies. “You hate the title, but you’re digging the song,” Dupuis sings wryly, “You like it in theory, but it’s rubbing you wrong.” Tuned smartly to the political opacity of the present, Twerp Verse rings clear as a bell.

The United States’ myriad inequalities, hatreds and phobias are painfully evident in 2017, offering proof that the age-old dichotomy of “political bands” versus “apolitical bands” simply doesn’t exist. Either you are comfortable and unfazed by the current reigning power structures, or you choose (or have no choice but) to use your music as a vehicle for the dismantling of oppression and the creation of something better. No matter what your songs are about, you are choosing a side.

The position of Providence, RI’s Downtown Boys has been clear since they started storming through basements and DIY spaces with their radically-minded, indefatigable rock music: they are here to topple the white-cis-het hegemony and draft a new history. In the words of vocalist and lyricist Victoria Ruiz, they are “five unique and individual people who believe in the spectrum of people, experiences and emotions.” On their self-titled 2014 EP on Sister Polygon Records (run by their like-minded friends in Priests), they offered songs like “Slumlord Sal,” which strikes out against abusive landlords. Its accompanying video relays the idea that cops can be literally smacked out of their oppressive mindsets and into an exuberantly queer dance party. This is how Downtown Boys began, combining revolutionary ideals with boundless energy and contagious, inclusive fun, and their resolve has only strengthened as both their sound and audience have grown.

Cost of Living is their third full-length, following a self-released 2012 debut and 2015’s Full Communism on Don Giovanni Records. They recorded it with Guy Picciotto, one of indie-rock’s most mythological figures, in the producer’s chair. (Although best known for his ability to sing while dangling from a basketball hoop, he’s also produced pivotal albums by The Gossip and Blonde Redhead, among others.) “He very much enabled us to believe in what we were doing enough to get the record done, and get it done well,” says Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, Downtown Boys’ guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter. Picciotto fostered the band’s improvisational urges while also pulling the root of their music to the forefront: unflinching choruses, fearlessly confrontational vocals, and the sense that each song will incite the room into action, sending bodies into motion that were previously thought to have atrophied.

Downtown Boys are keenly aware of the increased visibility and credibility that comes with signing to a corporate-media conglomerate such as Sub Pop. They’re using this platform as a megaphone for their protest music, amplifying and centering Chicana, queer, and Latino voices in the far-too-whitewashed world of rock. Opener “A Wall” rides the feel-good power that drove so many tunes by The Clash and Wire as it calls out the idea that a wall could ever succeed in snuffing the humanity and spirit of those it’s designed to crush. “Promissory Note” is a bold self-introduction to the exclusive clubs that either ignore Downtown Boys’ existence, or possibly worse, feign appreciation: “So what’s the matter, you don’t like what you see? I can’t believe you’re even talking to me!” Ruiz shouts that she won’t light herself on fire to keep you warm, and, like underground rock pioneer Alice Bag’s vitriolic verse, it’s a claim you wouldn’t dare question. “Tonta,” one of the three songs written and sung primarily in Spanish, is an introspective and emotional portrait of anguish, and it calls to mind the mighty scrum of Huasipungo at an ABC No Rio matinee.

Compared to previous efforts, Downtown Boys have shifted from a once-meaty brass section to the subtler melodic accompaniment of keyboards and a saxophone, coloring their anthems with warm, bright tones while Ruiz spits out her frustrations, passions, and intents. Some might say it shows a sense of maturity, as Downtown Boys have undoubtedly smoothed down some of their earlier edges, but there is no compromise to their righteous assault and captivating presence. Like the socially conscious groups of years past, from Public Enemy to Rage Against the Machine, Downtown Boys harness powerful sloganeering, repetitive grooves, and earworm hooks to create one of the most necessary musical statements of the day. We should all do well to take notice!

Palm plays rock music backwards. Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt’s guitars occupy themselves most often with the pace-keeping work typical of a rhythm section. Meanwhile, Gerasimos Livitsanos’ bass and Hugo Stanley’s drums perform commentary and reportage from their deeply embedded positions at the front. The band is firmly attached to the physicality of rock, but not as much its tone; their instruments tend to sound like any number of things at any given time.

None of the members of Palm are formally trained on their instruments. The band formed in 2011 at college in Upstate New York, when high school friends Eve and Kasra met Gerasimos and Hugo. In those early days, the band was just beginning to forge its collective musical identity through experiments in recording and performing live.

Their first album, Trading Basics (2015), was written in Hudson, NY, a riverside outpost where the group could clarify its intentions outside the direct influence of nearby cultural capitals. That year, the members of Palm relocated to Philadelphia, where they continue to live only a few blocks apart from one another. This proximity has facilitated a level of collaboration necessary for a sound so slippery to remain in the firm grasp of its players.

On 2017’s Shadow Expert EP, they made use of the steady hand granted by a tireless touring schedule, cutting their songs to efficiencies of pop confection without sacrificing the avant-adventurism at the center. The effort was met with praise from such outlets as Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, and Tiny Mix Tapes, who likened the sound variously to Stereolab, Slint, Sonic Youth and Broadcast. With Rock Island (2018), Palm excuses the company of these myriad influences with a sly brush of a hand, ushering the listener into a new domain, thrillingly strange for all its familiarity.

Rachel Browne.

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