Seven years removed from Yuck’s self-titled debut, and while the 90s alt-rock revival isn’t dead, it’s no longer able to subsist on nostalgia. If a band wants to make an impression beyond reminding listeners where their smears of distortion and angsty lyrics originated from, they need to be focused and put themselves in the shoes of a fan hungry for something at least somewhat inspired. Otherwise, they’ll produce something as forgettable as the last Bully album.

With three albums to their name, Speedy Ortiz know that they can’t risk coasting on scrappy charm. That’s not to disparage their first two albums: Major Arcana and Foil Deer, but to praise Twerp Verse, their third album. Produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley) and mastered by Emily Lazar (Sia, Haim), this album feels like the training wheels have come off, and Speedy Ortiz can really show what they’re capable of.

For one, this is Speedy Ortiz’s poppiest album yet, with plenty of synths, hooks, and an overall brighter sheen. However, it’s not like Lazar infected their grunginess with an overwhelming flavour of the top 40. Leader Sadie Dupuis has an adulation for catchiness, as evidenced by her electropop solo project, Sad13, but she uses it thoughtfully. She also allows herself and her bandmates plenty of moments to surprise, like how ‘I’m Blessed,’ briefly moves into Slowdive-style euphoria or the cowpunk stylings of ‘Sport Death.’

The press material for Twerp Verse discusses how, in 2016, the band had an album ready, only to strike it in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. Dupuis describes the songs on it as “strictly personal or lovey dovey.” in a way that she couldn’t connect with, either then or now. While there is rage permeating throughout the album, it’s delivered subtly, in a way that allows Dupuis’ frustration to leave a mark. She and the rest of the band perform a zeitgeist hat trick: making an album about issues of the present, inspired by sounds of the past, that seems likely to hold up in the future.

It’s a bit curious to hear Dupuis describe the scrapped material as she does, because one of Twerp Verse’s key strengths is how it relays the current circumstances through her POV. On the opener, ‘Buck Me Off,’ she finds herself in disbelief in “the year of the weird’ and trying to overcome the devil before ultimately usurping them. On synth-driven lead single ‘Lucky 88,’ she imbues her despair with a sharp, self-effacing wit. (“I once was lost but now I’m floundered and running late for my funerary date/Burn me later. Could you smile while you do it?”) It might strike some listeners as too solipsistic to be a compelling political album. On first listen, I was unimpressed, feeling like Dupuis and her bandmates were being too passive and not tackling the issues with proper vigour. It wasn’t until later that it clicked: anyone can deliver social commentary on record, but not many can be as stirringly personal as Speedy Ortiz.

Twerp Verse is also largely about relationships, but don’t think of it as a romantic or ‘lovey dovey” album. While Dupuis realizes the benefits of love, she knows what potential commitment entails, from coping with mental illness (‘Lean In When I Suffer’), to toxic partners (‘Backslidin’) to losing oneself in infatuation (‘Sport Death,’ with sample lyric: “I love you to death. So, I’ll probably end up dead.”) The most chilling is ‘Villain,’ about a perspiring stranger and fellow bus passenger invading Dupuis’ privacy with questions of porn preferences. The chorus gives her a hugely satisfying opportunity to shake off her tension. All this skepticism doesn’t lead to complete cynicism, as penultimate track ‘Moving In’ proves.

The lyrics to Twerp Verse are presented prosaically, a preference of Dupuis, who has an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Even without the musical accompaniment, they’re still quite touching. Perhaps indicative of the chops that earned her degree, she captures the ethos of late night journaling without being too navel-gazing. But her confidence in her words is most apparent through hearing her deliver them. Listen to how she strings together syllables effortlessly in the chorus to ‘Sport Death’ (“Why’d you ask the question if you won’t believe the answer?”) or how much she throws herself into ‘Lucky 88.’

Will the forfeited material show up? I imagine it will sooner or later. They followed up their last album with the Foiled Again EP, and I could see them releasing something more substantial in the wake of this one. Or maybe Dupuis and the rest of Speedy Ortiz will decide it’s best to look ahead and build off the momentum of this album. On Foil Deer’s ‘The Graduates,’ Dupuis lamented/bragged, “I was the best at being second place.” If she keeps this up, she’ll be even closer to the gold.