Speedy Ortiz Rabbit Rabbit
September 1, 2023
“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.
1. Kim Cattrall
2. You S02
4. Plus One
5. Cry Cry Cry
6. Ballad of Y&S
8. Who’s Afraid of the Bath
9. Ranch vs. Ranch
10. Emergency & Me
11. The Sunday
12. Brace Thee