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“Rabbit rabbit” is a superstitious incantation repeated on the first of each month to bring good fortune—a belief practiced by Sadie Dupuis, the guitarist, singer and songwriter of the Philadelphia rock quartet Speedy Ortiz. As a child with OCD, she followed arbitrary rituals, a coping mechanism commonly triggered by early trauma, and “rabbit rabbit” was one that stuck. When Dupuis began to parse difficult memories for the first time in her songwriting, it felt like kismet to name her band’s resultant fourth record after an expression of luck and repetition: Rabbit Rabbit. Instead of re-treading old routines, the record finds Speedy Ortiz interrogating conventions, grappling with cycles of violence and destructive power dynamics with singular wit and riffs. Rabbit Rabbit finds Speedy Ortiz at its most potent: melodically fierce, sonically mountainous, scorching the earth and beginning anew.
Speedy Ortiz debuted as Dupuis’ home-recording outlet in 2011, but the solo project quickly blew up into a full-fledged band beloved around the world for its pointed lyrics, disarmingly hooky choruses, and musical ingenuity—as well as its activism. The group graced festival stages from Bonnaroo to Primavera, supported heroic artists from Foo Fighters to Liz Phair, and brought acts including Mitski and Soccer Mommy on some of their earliest tours. In 2016, the band relocated from Massachusetts to Philadelphia, with the lineup changing shortly thereafter to include sonically inventive guitarist Andy Molholt (Laser Background, Eric Slick), drivingly melodic bassist Audrey Zee Whitesides (Mal Blum, Little Waist), and heavy-hitting drummer Joey Doubek (Pinkwash, Downtown Boys). Rabbit Rabbit is the first Speedy album to feature the longtime touring members as full contributors, and Dupuis and her bandmates blaze with unpredictability, their intrepid playing thrusting songs in exhilarating new directions.
The gnarled guitars and imagistic lyrics that defined 2013’s Major Arcana, 2015’s Foil Deer and 2018’s Twerp Verse are still present, but Rabbit Rabbit’s recordings feel as vast as a desert landscape. “As I was channeling scenes and sentiments from decades past, I wanted to honor the bands I loved when I first learned guitar, ones that taught me to get lost in the possibilities of this instrument,” Dupuis recalls. Speedy Ortiz delved into its members’ most formative musical favorites—post-hardcore, the Palm Desert scene, alternative metal—pushing the agile complexity of the guitars and forceful rhythmic interplay between the drums and bass to unprecedentedly tricky extremes. “Every voice has a narrative,” offers Doubek of the arrangement process. “There is so much feeling and melody to interpret, and so much room to express it.”
The desert’s guidance extended to their choice of recording locales: Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree (Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey) and Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas (Sparta, Fiona Apple). They worked with engineer and co-producer Sarah Tudzin (Illuminati Hotties, Pom Pom Squad), who imbued the riff-heavy record with righteous heat. She also helped carve space for the electronic tones of Dupuis’ ornate pre-production, completed using a synesthetic constraint in which she immersed herself in a different color to arrange each song. Former bandmates Darl Ferm and Devin McKnight added overdubs to fill out the record’s already-teeming sound—an homage to Rancho’s sprawling, collaborative Desert Sessions project. David Catching (earthlings?, Eagles of Death Metal), Rancho’s owner, also added mesmerizing lap steel, a favorite moment for the whole band.
In her past few years of work as a writer and interviewer, Dupuis recognized a recurring thread among artists with parallel backstories to her own: music had provided escapism from childhood abuse, but those same turbulent circumstances had normalized the grimmest aspects of the music industry. These were flashbacks she’d shied from, and constant touring enabled that avoidance. But Rabbit Rabbit pulls no punches, either in its self-reflections or its call outs. With a Touch and Go-indebted maelstrom of distorted solos, lead single “You S02” trains its gaze on apologists, union-busters, and other ex-punks who don’t live up to their public ethos. Sing-song verses explode into a candy-tipped arrow of a chorus on the danceably off-kilter “Scabs,” a critique of those who cross picket lines. Jagged-cliff-dwelling riffs and thundering drums punctuate the kiss-off waltz of “Plus One,” while dry-lightning guitars and skewed bass groove turn “Ranch vs. Ranch” (a nod to Rabbit Rabbit’s two studios) into a vivid origin story for a horror movie hero. The darkly hued “Cry Cry Cry,” written about Dupuis’ inability to feel safe with tears, is a classically-composed tumble of contrapuntal riffs and electroclash timbres. And “Ghostwriter,” already a staple of Speedy’s live set, is a call to dismiss unproductive rage, delivered with the shimmering bash of the Y2K alt renaissance. “I hope we captured the total joy I get when I hear bands like that,” says Whitesides.
The record’s most scenic lyrics come from “Kitty,” an urban pastoral about the all-night noise on Dupuis’ block. “It felt important to ground the record in our shared location, especially since being at home and the friendship of my bandmates is what helped me reckon with this album’s themes,” says Dupuis. But a sense of fight is still at the forefront of Rabbit Rabbit; another catalyst was Speedy Ortiz’s efforts as community activists. Molholt and Dupuis are organizers with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers and its Philly local, which has worked to place instruments in state prisons. The band has also collaborated with harm reduction organizations, Girls Rock Camps, and other grassroots groups while on tour. In addition to her production work with electropop project Sad13 (Backxwash, Lizzo), Dupuis is also a poet; her second book Cry Perfume was released in 2022, and its subject matters of grief and harm reduction put her in the frame of mind to write Rabbit Rabbit’s intimately nuanced lyrics—a confessionalism explored on the meta “Ballad of Y & S,” which teasingly ponders the market utility of semi-autobiographical art.
The record’s cover is Dupuis’ mixed-media painting of a fire-engulfed pickup truck, an image inspired by the trucks on fire she drew compulsively as a kid in therapy. Drawing from literary influences that include workplace apocalypses, magical realist family dramas, and artists’ biographies, Rabbit Rabbit is Speedy Ortiz’s most ambitious and expansive record to date. “I turned 33 while writing this album, a palindrome birthday and a lucky number associated with knowledge,” explains Dupuis. “I wanted to mark how I was making better choices as I got older, letting go of heedless anger even when it’s warranted.” The album’s stirring immediacy owes much to the band’s strength as a collective, working together toward a better future—or, as Molholt puts it, “constantly surfing the highs and lows in search of a stable place to land.” With considered muscularity, captivating earworms, and genuine solidarity, Speedy Ortiz is equipped to confront the world’s indignities—with or without a good luck charm
poolblood understands the tender urgency in crafting stories around deep and abiding intimacies, romantic and platonic, that run so far below the surface they become the root of everything that grows on the surface. Connective tissue between tender loved ones that is so urgent it requires constant, careful cultivation as days turn to weeks, then to months and long into the years. True intimacies take time, and with that time those connections can be lost, even with those we felt closest to. These stories have come together to create the ethereal bedroom pop songs on poolblood’s debut LP mole, out January 13th 2023 on Next Door Records. “A lot of it was just me processing the grief of leaving and also trying to let time heal me and become a mother, a parent figure,” poolblood’s Maryam Said says, “I looked at time as a mother figure.
The emotional vulnerability inherent in these stories stems from artists like Fiona Apple, whose landmark 1999 record When The Pawn… left an indelible impression on Said’s own approach to storytelling and songwriting. “I was so drawn to her, for a lack of a better word, rage,” Said says of their initial impression of Apple’s music. But rage is a single arrow in a full quiver, the depth of emotional vulnerability is what held the most appeal. The suggestion that an array of emotional frequencies can resonate and create a place for instrument and voice to work in harmony as a vehicle for storytelling. Said is the rare artist who picks through the layers of the art they absorb and finds takeaways to bring home and use in their own creations, taking lessons learned from the art that has impacted them the most to perfect their own craft.
That emotional vulnerability is given full breath on songs like the gorgeous and lush “my little room”, the finale of the stories weaving in and out of each over the course of mole. “Time is an illusion, keeping me in place that’s kept under my skin” Said sings over a sea of gently plucked strings, each existing in their own perfect place in time. As the song builds we are greeted by the subtle, stunning bowing of Eliza Niemi’s cello, Aaron Hutchinson’s tender and somber horns and Victoria Bury’s gentle and lilting flute. Layers threaded into the depth of the beautiful closing track, hints at a depth that requires multiple listens to fully explore.
Other influences give life to the tracks on mole, outside poolblood’s musical influences. Films also played their part in pushing the inspiration behind the overarching narrative, notably the intimate bond between Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in critically acclaimed homoerotic drama My Own Private Idaho. “I thought it was so beautiful,” Said says, “That idea of how friendship, platonic and romantic, can weave in and out each other.” The themes in the film, how a friend can love another so deeply, but also be so tethered to their vision of the other as their rock that they are afraid of losing them forever, informed poolblood’s desire to fully explore the realm of intimate relationships.
Not afraid of letting their sly sense of humour bleed through the layers, mole is rife with a sense of humour and wonder dancing playfully along. Like “twinkie”, a driving uptempo rock song with a chorus that rises from the dance floor to the heavens, reminiscent of the best indie pop of an era when bands like The Shins changed our lives forever. It’s playful and tender, moving your feet to the rhythm of an ever present heart.
It is fitting too that on an album so much centered around the connectivity of deep and abiding friendships that mole is awash with collaborators, each bringing their own unique talent and skill into the mix. Louie Short and Shamir Bailey worked with Said as producers on the project, and played on a number of tracks in addition to a cadre of musicians filtering in and out of each song. The impact of the connection between us living not just at the core of the songs, but at the heart of those creating the underlying musical landscape is felt as the sensibilities of each new drummer, guitar or horn adds a new and specific element to the record.
mole is a record that speaks to us all, sings to our hearts and moves within our feet. Songs of love, loss and rebirth that we can all find ourselves reflected in and take our own stories away from. It is the underlying theme of our lives, the lives of those we love and the lives of those we have lost by time and distance. Through it all we connect with the beautiful, tender and uplifting world that poolblood has laid before us. We can feel mole in our bones because we have, and always will be, the stories told within.
Amy Oelsner and Erin Tobey, both busy songwriters in Bloomington, Indiana, admired each other’s confessional solo work and sought to collaborate on a more abstract project. The two friends, as Brenda’s Friend, noticeably relish in exploring the many possible configurations of two voices and two guitars (with the occasional drum). Among the flavors are sonorous folk rock, distorted doo-wop, the melodic richness of Talulah Gosh’s early indie-pop and a Wire-like post-punk stomp. Their lyrics are also a surreal grab-bag, with Oelsner and Tobey often forgoing narrative for words that simply bring the most melismatic pleasure in their mouths. It’s the playful yet convincing sound of two sincere talents letting their pop sensibilities off the leash.
Date & Time
Fri, Sep 22, 2023 9:00 PM - 11:00 PM