by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)
After a solid year of songs venting long-mounting frustrations with patriarchal figures ranging from world leaders to casual subway misogynists, 2018 has felt like an unexpected collective sigh wherein artists like U.S. Girls and Natalie Prass have successfully manipulated their ire into the shape of something shockingly danceable. Fighting fire with fire in their albums’ initial drafts didn’t yield the results these artists were looking for, so they opted for water, ultimately penning songs that seem less hazardous on the surface but flow more naturally—and therefore more caustically—than anything else in their past discographies.
From the opening seconds of Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz’s follow-up to 2015’s characteristically grungy Foil Deer, the handclaps, backing vocal harmonies, and inkling of autotune suggest the Massachusetts four-piece have adopted a similar approach for their own airing of grievances. Early singles “Lean in When I Suffer” and “Lucky 88” hinted at a major deviation from any and all Helium likenesses the band’s accumulated over the years, instead potentially placing them in contemporary pop conversations; the pair of songs may not quite be in step with any Antonoff-produced Grammy-bait, but both tracks are undeniably symptomatic of the maximalism of today’s popular music and share the same crossover potential hoisted by 2016’s Minneapolised remix of “Puffer” courtesy of thinking-person’s party-rap producer Lazerbeak and an ever-boisterous Lizzo.
But Twerp Verse isn’t all Lazers and Top 40—in fact, by the midway point it backslides comfortably into some familiar Ortizian moods, commencing with Stockholm-syndrome anthem “Backslidin’” and easing into the wildly unsettling odd-duck single “Villain,” another extreme the band experiments with on the album for which they display an equivalent level of on-brand cool composure. “I’m blessed with perfect pitch, but I waste it on songs you’ve never even heard of,” vocalist Sadie Dupuis boasts later on “I’m Blessed” in what’s likely the album’s Speediest moment (alternatively: “no, no, no, you’re not my bro”), confirming the band’s solidarity with their pop-wary audience.
While the gyroscopic wonk achieved in the final minute of “Sport Death” may fondly recall simpler times in Speedyville, the seamless melding of repurposed ’90s alt-rock guitar with synth-pop sensibilities on the near-imminent “Moving In” fully realizes the sonic cohesion the band plays with throughout a record otherwise held together by a palpable sense of release in the punning, poetic, and indicting lyrics of one Sadie Dupuis, M.A. Where the band’s previous output was characterized by a slacker mentality ingrained in their scene, Twerp Verse rises above with a distinct personality animated by a sense of quickly-shifting social norms rebuking complacency. Though the whole album doesn’t go all-in like its singles do, it’s an insightful primer on this new scale of just how Speedy Ortiz a Speedy Ortiz album can be.
For a band who have thus far given us several stellar iterations of the same thing, Twerp Verse is a lot of different things. It’s the “speedy ortiz online presence?” to the band’s @speedyortiz discography, offering plenty of breathing room for Dupuis’ pop-leaning proclivities while continuing to consider the established personality of her surrounding band. It’s a thesis statement positing a Lola Bunny—with the support of her team of Jordans—dunking on the chauvinist Monstars’ entire starting lineup without breaking a sweat. It’s pop music with a Speedy underbelly, as solidified in the infectious minimal synth-pop closer, “You Hate the Title,” which highlights the absurdity of separating two things that are inextricably linked. Even if you hate the title (“twerp verse,” Dupuis explains, refers to the novelty guest verse that winds up defining a rap song), there’s no refusing the sugar-coated barbs constituting the album’s eleven tracks.