The term got torn a new one decades ago when Sonic Youth called it 'disgusting', ill-equipped to represent the effort inherent in slogging away at being an alternative rock band. But 'slacker' is a word that gets chucked around in much of the press attendant to Massachusetts' Speedy Ortiz, a band who, yes, wreath themselves in sludge and a deceptive looseness of groove, a louche delivery that belies the bitchin' shred of their fretboard acrobatics. Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, as is often mentioned, also fronts an all-girl Pavement covers outfit, an homage to a band similarly tied up in the ideology of that word. That Steven Malkmus is as musically active as ever at 47 is also kind of telling, but whatever.
So yeah, we get it. 'Slack' equates to rad, vibey, mad decent. But Speedy Ortiz' physical hard work notwithstanding (their touring ethic is after all separate from their sound), it's still a broken description. The songs on Real Hair will be no real revelation to Speedy fans turned on by last year's superlative Major Arcana, despite their label's poptimistic assertions that they've folded in chart and R&B influences. The EP is a set of lopsided, fuzz-happy indie rock, a four-instrument bunfight that makes a splattery mess everywhere and references all your faves - Pavement, yes, Archers, Dino - without sounding much like any of them. Lead track 'American Horror' is probably the best thing they've come up with yet, obtuse and incendiary six-string divebombs that unfathomably mesh into a jubilant whole, while 'Everything's Bigger' achieves the admirable feat of having this weirdly slinky verse that's just as catchy as its molten, spiralling chorus. But if Speedy's instrumental antics start odd and end up addictive, it's Dupuis' way around language that severs her band from anything resembling the mumbled or half-arsed.
Because while Real Hair could get away with bypassing brains and going solely for guts on the strength of its adrenalised volume and bizarre melodic bent, rest on its laurels it don't. It's in Speedy Ortiz' lexicon, rather than their roaring distortion, that this EP's teeth lie, and as such we're cast conversational hooks loaded with the sort of meaty bait befitting a frontwoman who teaches at UMass and logs time over at The Talkhouse. "Well it's not what you think," sings Dupuis at the start of 'American Horror', and she's damn right - as Real Hair progresses , her prolixity becomes an intoxicating game of chance. Does she mean for 'Oxygal's drunken refrain of "Be in this picture, this picture with me" to evoke an early Elliott Smith lyric, but pitted against the druggy grime that characterized his latest work? Did she really just sing "I'm a donut" on 'Everything's Bigger'? Or was it 'dolma'? Regardless, what does she mean? Does she present herself here as Jawbox's 'Savory', framed to be consumed, or something else entirely?
That it's 'dull knife' hardly matters, because like all the scorch-marked guitar roar, Real Hair's verbal fluidity starts off disorientating, but ends up, like, totally righteous. A few spins in, you'll wince at the stings of the web full of bees on 'American Horror'. You'll laugh at the notion of being relegated to 'a stage of awful singles ventilating'. You'll punch the air when Dupuis hands romance's derriere to itself on ramshackle closer 'Shine Theory', quipping that despite everyone banging on about how pretty and swell someone is, it's still alright not to get aroused.
If Speedy Ortiz are 'slackers', they're not not some Nietszche-misquotin', conspiracy-theorisin', piff-slingin' con artist, but rather that hood-lidded savant who turned up to morning lectures behind dark glasses for three years, who started writing at 2am for noon hand-ins, then left the place with honours to their bloodshot eyeballs. Most importantly, Real Hair resolutely refuses to collapse under the weight of its own wordiness. It's clever, sure, but it's high-grade, pedal-hopping rock music by the same token.