Speedy Ortiz debut record Major Arcana is a heady ride through splintered guitar lines and rhythms splayed out like an unplanned street grid. For a first outing, it’s bound to knock the wind out of you, shedding three cups of promise every 30 or so seconds. At about one-years old, they’re already writing songs like grown-ups and making the big kids look bad.
Smack dab in the middle of the record, though, they take a break from the clamor and snarl and math formulas with “No Below,” a thick-skinned but damaged ballad as stunning in parts as any trickily contrived arpeggio. Sadie Dupuis, having already proved herself a skilled singer on the lead-up tracks, sharpening and softening contours at just the right moments for the perfect effect, gives a truly exceptional performance, her confident voice cracking once or twice as the words find their way out from between her lips. “They always said I was better off as being dead, but I didn’t know you yet,” she sighs on the refrain, pained and haunting.
The song is built on a stoic guitar figure that rarely shifts but seems to grow in severity with every passing bar. As things come to a climax, two more guitars enter the mix in hyperkinetic discord and screech up and up and up like the desperately aching brakes of a high-speed train. It’s a pretty overwhelming moment, probably the best on the album, but only by a hair.
Other standouts include opener “Pioneer Spine” and the uber-heavy “Cash Cab”, but why not check out the whole thing? You can stream it here on NPR’s “First Listen”.