Both Sides of the Coin: Speedy Ortiz's Major Arcana Heads

God, is this an album for synthed-out ears, the bitter aftertaste to a sugar rush gone years too long. Northampton, Massachusetts, spits out a winner with Speedy Ortiz, and on Major Arcana, the band puts on their best Stephen Malkmus for the people who don’t know they’re laughing at themselves when they’re watching “Portlandia.”

The songs all ride ball-fisted Tigger bounces into cats hanging over the bathwater.

You’re gonna hear a lot about “No Below,” if you haven’t already, so might as well start there.

“I know I once said, ‘I was better off just being dead,’ but I didn’t know you yet.”

That’s some truth right there, the lyrical equivalent of the moment before the pirate ship stops swinging up and your stomach feels suspended. It just takes the floor out.

“Gary” finds the band throwing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs into some mild molasses, just enough to put their own spin on it. “Cash Cab” sounds jarring and disorienting, and it is. That’s also the point. You need to walk over the eggshells enough to make them sleek.

If not, well, you can always holdout for the next band to do the ’90s justice. With Yuck gone and Smith Westerns going all smooth, it looks like we have some new retro-90s ringleaders.

Here’s a mop, now get to work.


The least surprising thing about Speedy Ortiz’s debut disc is that the lead singer was formerly in a Pavement cover band. Nope, it doesn’t really seem like she’s moved on much from Babement.

Major Arcana does have a few moments that make you think the hype is worth it – not gonna lie, “No Below” is just good.

I take that back. “No Below” is an interesting song lyrically, but the issue with it is that I just don’t trust this kind of “confessional songwriting” anymore. You spent a summer on crutches, alone in your room? So, did Rivers Cuomo and he at least gave us Pinkerton. What’s your excuse?

Maybe its the poor production. The songs all seem to have a surface of film, like some gross pond scum. Sure, there are interesting little riffs that circle like flies and choice words dart like zipping fish, but like all ponds, something smells and I’m not sticking around to find it.

Maybe it’s just hard to tell if this was made by slackers or if its just faithfully created slacker music. But, should I really care?

The best review of this album I’ve heard is from a friend at a train station.

“Ehh, it’s indie rock,” he said. The thing he didn’t mention is what a disappointing thing that’s become.

Verdict: Tails

Pete Rizzo can be reached at

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  • I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece of music criticism that uses more poetic license than the lyrics under review.

    “Sure, there are interesting little riffs that circle like flies and choice words dart like zipping fish, but like all ponds, something smells and I’m not sticking around to find it.”

    Like, wow. That has absolutely nothing to do with music. The closest this article gets to actually describing the music of Speedy Ortiz is with the done-to-death Pavement comparison and a kind of confusing Yeah Yeah Yeahs comparison. Oh yeah and calling it “slacker music.” Meanwhile, a quick search yields no results for “guitar,” “drums,” “bass,” or “vocals.” Time to examine your craft, Pete!

  • Interesting review. Very cynical, very reductionist. Also, not much description of the music itself. More of a series of metaphorical images and disaffected comparisons to very famous bands.

  • Hi guys, thanks for your comments. As you can probably tell by reading this, I’m not a big fan of conventional music reviews. I’m pleased you picked up on this.

    With this review, I was attempting to get to the heart of the matter – Speedy Ortiz are undoubtedly a talented band with not much new to say, and that their strong reception is disappointing and owing a lot to the weak market out there for good indie rock. Not very interesting to read now is it?

    With my reviews, I try to explain why you should or shouldn’t listen to an album without conventional crutches. I used a poetic license to get this across, because, well why shouldn’t reviews be as creative as the art that they’re critiquing?

    To clarify, I think Speedy Ortiz could very well be a good band, but I don’t believe they showed me that with this album.

  • Wowzers. Who’d have thought Speedy Ortiz would already have such ardent supporters among the indie listener-erati? You’d think we were ranking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as the worst album of the 2000s or some shit.

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