Sounding like they were forged in the early to mid-'90s -- when Throwing Muses and Sleater-Kinney were all the rage -- Speedy Ortiz's 2013 debut album, Major Arcana, finds the four-piece influenced by the raw, slanted guitar-driven indie rock of the '90s. Turning back time to two decades prior is an ongoing trend of 2013, and in a lot of ways, Speedy Ortiz resemble Best Coast's grungier, more alternative cousin from up in the Northwest (actually, the members hail from Northampton, Massachusetts). With nimble, fractured musicianship steered by twisting guitar parts and Sadie Dupuis' sweet, gutsy voice, the group has drawn many comparisons to Pavement, who Dupuis admits plays a big influence on the band, not just in the song structures, but in the witty, conversational lyrical style of the album. Clever gems like "You've got a habit with stains, I study etymology/But I never succumbed to that dirty word 'til I met you" add some levity to the album's ragged, noise-ravaged sound and spirit. Named after a reference to a deck of Tarot cards, there is a subtle black magic theme underlying Major Arcana, illustrated by lyrics like "This is how the pros do it right/Wedding chapel exorcism under a dim lamp light" and a story in "Plough" about an ex-boyfriend who is freaking her out by burning all her candles while convulsing. (This issue is addressed with more slacker attitude than genuine concern.) Distancing sentiments like "Vaccinate the ones you love/Anesthesia so they can't feel you" and instrumentation built on tense barbed-wire arrangements and layers of fuzz guitars make '90s comparisons inevitable, but Speedy Ortiz do the throwback thing so well that it's commendable. Many listeners may find themselves drawn in by the authentic retro indie style and musical similarities to bands like Bettie Serveert and Helium, but the daring, experimental mystique and whip-smart pop melodies ultimately make Major Arcana grow infectious with repeated listens.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Lymangrover