In emulation of the album itself, let’s skip the preamble and get right to the heart of this — Twerp Verse, the third LP from Massachusetts quartet Speedy Ortiz, is damn fantastic. From the first moments of opener “Buck Me Off”, the album hits with an immediacy that doesn’t let up across its 11 tracks. Most remarkable, though, is that it marries two characteristics that typically make for odd bedfellows: its lyrics are socially conscious and steeped in the topical (while being poetically weird), but the tunes surrounding them are still a lot of fun. The band has always been uncompromising in its perspective, and with the current sociopolitical landscape, vocalist-guitarist Sadie Dupuis doubles down on addressing some grim cultural issues, all amid a bevy of melodic hooks. Twerp Verse features some of the band’s catchiest tunes thus far and finds Speedy Ortiz fully embracing earworm pop.
The record wastes no time in staking its claim with the defiantly self-assured “Buck Me Off”, which feels something like a spiritual sequel to “Raising the Skate”, one of the strongest tracks from 2015’s Foil Deer. Dupuis recalls “the year of the weird” as distortion simmers beneath her and the mid-tempo drum beat prods forth. Twenty seconds in, the grit drops out and allows an ethereal ambiance to float in. Just seconds later, the chorus barges in like a squall, Dupuis proclaiming “I’m in league with the devil / You better buck me off / I compete with the devil.” It’s a strong rebuttal against the patriarchal mindset that feels threatened by feminism, while still being impish in its mockery. The tune ends at the three-minute mark, establishing a trend most of its successors adhere to of wrapping while you’re eager to hear its hooks one more time. Clearly, Speedy Ortiz finds merit in the leave-them-wanting-more adage.
In “Lean in When I Suffer”, Dupuis casts a critical sneer at fair-weather allies who turn blind eyes to their friends’ mental health issues. Guitars skitter and cleave as the percussion lurches, halts, and lurches back, making a suitable audible simulation of the panic attack referenced in the lyrics. On its heels is “Lucky 88”, already a contender for an indie rock single of the year. Having augmented their guitar-focused aesthetic with quirky synths, it’s as unapologetic a pop number as Speedy Ortiz has released. Dupuis’s wry, Paul Westerbergian wordplay here is stellar: “I once was lost, but now I’m floundered / And running late for my funerary date.” The verses of jittery synths and click-clack percussion build tension, Dupuis sweetly offering a mantra of “I don’t care anymore” before the catharsis arrives in the refrain. Surging above the surface, it’s brash, snotty, and instantly infectious. As with “Buck Me Off”, its punchy length leaves a lasting taste in your mouth.
After this initial trio, the record reins in some of its boisterous tendencies for slower and more sinister-sounding numbers. “Can I Kiss U” weaves its way sinuously like a water moccasin slithering across a swamp, while “Backslidin'” has that ominous, dusk-is-settling-in mood. “I guess we’re backslidin’ into hell / But at least we know each other well,” Dupuis sings, her vocals soaring as subtle synths and descending guitars roil. “Villain” is the record’s most harrowing moment, the percussion tumbling as the bass throbs and odd synth bleeps arise. In near whisper, Dupuis describes riding the same bus as a creepy-yet-entitled sexual predator. In this brief account, a spotlight is shone on a the fear and disgust of a woman who still must be polite to the titular villain’s come-ons. It’s an unsettling and compelling song, showcasing the divide between and expectations of both parties involved. That the setting itself is so mundane amplifies how rampant such conduct is. The eerie vibe is continued with “I’m Blessed”, which drifts along until the drums come in to anchor proceedings. Sparse synth notes give way to crushing guitars in the choruses, wherein Dupuis venomously asserts autonomy, before those too fade into the lightly hovering outro.
The following three songs — “Sport Death”, “Alone With Girls”, and “Moving In” — reassert the album’s poppier inclinations. The first opens with pulsating bass before evolving into a guitar whirlwind, Dupuis spitting rapid-fire lyrics. “Alone With Girls”, a confident kiss-off of a number, begins with minimal instrumentation before swelling to another memorable chorus that’ll compete with the others already stuck in your head. “Moving In” is, for lack of a better term, lyrically the sweetest cut, seemingly a genuine love song. The drawback is that it is the least memorable of the batch, but it gives way to one hell of a closer in “You Hate the Title”. Even by the standards established in the preceding ten songs, this is a bit jarring at first. It’s pure, unabashed bubblegum, the kaleidoscoping synths at their most prominent, sounding a bit like an off-kilter carnival calliope. Lyrically, it takes on a meta-degree of commentary, jabbing those who are too cool to admit they like pop music but will still sing along. With its self-referential quality, it’s the perfect way to wrap the record.
This is Speedy Ortiz at their most refined and most accessible. Their previous two records were great but faced some criticism of being a little too indebted to a ’90s fixation. Yes, some of their lo-fi grit has been culled, but to complain about that in light of the rewards the change yields is to be contrarian. With Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz no longer sound like they’re working through their influences; they simply sound like Speedy Ortiz.