Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz leaves her guitar and arch songwriting behind for sweet synthpop and a more direct, heart-on-sleeve lyrical perspective.
While Speedy Ortiz rely on the same sort of bending, distorted guitars that typified indie rock in its snarky ‘90s heyday, frontwoman/songwriter Sadie Dupuis’ perspective as a lyricist has been anything but apathetic. In her band, her songwriting voice could best be described as "positive with a bit of aggression". Crucially, that voice remains intact on Slugger, Dupuis’ first solo album under the moniker of Sad13. Musically, though, the album couldn’t be further from the jagged six-string attack of Speedy Ortiz. Rather than falling into that uncomfortable trend of indie rock songwriters crafting solo albums indistinct from that of the bands they’re part of, Dupuis trades in her guitar for a synthesizer on an album with all the charms of bedroom synthpop.
While Slugger doesn’t have the aggression of Speedy Ortiz, it retains the urgency of Dupuis’ best work. That’s largely due to her lyrics, which find her delivering a distinct, direct message that need not be muddled in flowery language or heavy-handed metaphors. “Get a Yes” is the prime example of this, on which Dupuis discusses sexual politics and consent in as plainspoken a manner as possible (“I say yes to your touch when I need your touch / I say yes if I want to.”) Elsewhere, she addresses the myths about opposite sex friendships on “Just a Friend” (“If you got a girl who’s got a friend / Then you should just believe”), and “Tell U What” tries to find empowerment and self-worth in the face of an abusive relationship (“You just throw me round like trash / When I’m worth every dime you have / Tell you what: I’m not worth your violence.”) This isn’t representative of the album in its entirety -- songs like "2" and “Fixina” have a more abstract lyrical bent to them -- it’s nonetheless impressive that Dupuis is able to effectively convey these messages without seeming heavy-handed or preachy in the process.
Musically, however, Slugger occasionally struggles to be distinct from Dupuis’ earlier work, despite her best efforts. While the synthesizers and drum machines change things up, Dupuis’ melodies and tempos are still very much married to the '90s-inspired indie rock with which she’s most associated. A few songs, like “Line Up", could even have been released as Speedy Ortiz songs without anyone being the wiser. Fortunately, Dupuis is good enough as a songwriter to keep Slugger from being lackadaisical or tiresome, and Slugger still hits a nostalgic sweet spot in the same way that her best work with her band does. Still, one would have hoped for a reinvention rather than a subtle tweak.
Still, for the most part, Slugger is a charming listen that highlights what Sadie Dupuis does best. Her songs, which always had something of a pop sensibility, transfer easily to a more direct, pop-leaning style, and she proves to be an excellent lyricist when conveying direct messages. What’s more, the record exudes confidence and assurance, things that one wouldn’t always expect from a project’s debut. Sure, it may be slightly too familiar to some tastes, but Slugger still manages to be both comforting and challenging as a piece of pop music.