“I’m tired of anger,” Sadie Dupuis declares on ‘Ghostwriter’, the closing track on Speedy Ortiz’s new album Rabbit Rabbit. “How to move on?” And then, “How do I let go?” Throughout the LP – the band’s first in five years – the frontwoman rarely lays her feelings bare in such a direct manner, but these are questions folded at the core of its songs, which are captivating as ever but hardly a departure sonically. Featuring returning guitarist Andy Molholt and two touring members who are now full-time contributors, bassist Audrey Zee Whitesides and drummer Joey Doubek, they wander down winding paths, reconciling poetic lyrics and indie rock hooks while showing no cloying reliance on either. Dupuis pierces through and gnaws at familiar subjects – old trauma, climate catastrophe, workaholism, hypocrisy of all sorts – in ways that make the exhaustion she expresses at the end sound, if not contradictory, then worth it: she hasn’t figured it out, for herself or anyone, but she has been moving on and letting go. Sometimes, you need to ask for change to realize you’re already facilitating it.
On the surface, Speedy Ortiz songs can seem emotionally and musically tangled, even detached. The titles of some of these tracks, often applied retroactively, find Dupuis referencing pop culture and media (TV shows, actors, the Dismemberment Plan) in ways that might only seem tangentially related to their content, which could muddy their impact; others are sharp reflections on an industry that avoid actively exploring the singer’s role or experiences within it. But Dupuis works with an ability to write through, not always about, and her personal voice shines through even the most unpredictable arrangements. Against tumbling guitars and remarkably fluid drumming, her confidence breezes through the noisy ‘Kim Cattral’, which stands in direct opposition to the burnout-fuelled uncertainty of the closer but begins to tackle the same questions around devoting yourself to art – or any cause. On ‘Ballad of Y & S’, which alludes to Yoko Ono and Sylvia Plath, she reconnects with the power of confessional art by considering and including herself in its lineage: “I am an artist and I am for hire, taking materials out of the pyre/ Working for lovers hunting for meaning/ You can take it from me.”
Even if Dupuis left herself entirely out of the narrative, her commentary would still be compelling. The LA type she targets on ‘You S02’ is just one of many manipulative, self-righteous characters, but she sneers at them with the sort of attention that almost resembles sympathy – “It’s no small claim to say your acolyte is a voice in your head you drown out when your work’s not sitting right/ Head to your weekend home, pass out for the strike” – but only drives the sting deeper. ‘Scabs’ was inspired by overhearing customers at the post office berating a USPS employee at a time of significant budget cuts, in line with the general theme of personal convenience ultimately trumping (performative) ethics. Though seething with a hunger for revenge that’s never satisfied, the song offers a little piece of wisdom: “If we’re adults then why macromanage every conviction?” Even when Dupuis’ perspective is murky, the instrumentation illuminates it; on ‘Who’s Afraid of the Bath’, which explores the complicated relationship between projecting violent fantasies for the sake of art and real instances of violence, it’s dissonant, almost damaged in its evocation of that same music.
More than staring down her demons, Dupuis tends to swim alongside them. But it’s the songs that display an open-hearted, bracing vulnerability, especially towards the end, that take Rabbit Rabbit to another level. ‘Cry Cry Cry’ brings to mind another song Sarah Tudzin of illuminati hotties co-produced, Pom Pom Squad’s ‘Crying’, though this one unpacks an inability to tap into such overt expression of feeling: “Make my way down the path of pain but I never stop to see it.” From an early age, though, she’s strived to make good use of other outlets. “I want the power and my beat is dangerous, puncturing the sky,” she sings on ‘The Sunday’, remembering when she first started playing drums as a teenager. To capture the memory – to really remember and trace it down the present – she quiets the music and makes it glisten. “Sunday’s becoming Monday,” yesterday becomes today, you’re becoming an adult. You grow – there’s no point asking how. But there’s magic in it, and Sadie Dupuis is a witness.