Sadie Dupuis is the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of rock band Speedy Ortiz. She’s also the producer & multi-instrumentalist behind pop project Sad13. Sadie heads the record label Wax Nine, has written for outlets including Spin, Nylon, and Playboy, and holds an MFA in poetry from UMass Amherst. Mouthguard, her first book, was published in 2018.
(Photo Credit: Jordan Edwards)
For whatever reason — idiocy, wide-eyed-bushy-tailedness, terminal boredom — we decided, about two months after forming Speedy Ortiz, that our first-ever tour as a band would be an eight-week, cross-country affair. Man, was it arduous to book that shit — none of us had ever toured for more than a couple weeks at a time, and we hardly knew any bands far from the East Coast. Day after day was dedicated to formulaic Googling, à la “x bandcamp y,” where “x” stands for “post-punk” or “math-rock” or “sick riffs” and “y” stands for “Santa Fe” or “St. Louis” or “perdition.”
A lot of what came up was, understandably, crap, and I learned that you can never trust a band that claims to sound like Fugazi. But all those hours of grueling Google-mining seemed worth it, because at the end of every day I had a handful of new bands I could list among my recent favorites. And Naomi Punk was one of the best “sick riffs” bands — particularly their song “The Spell,” which seemed at once spooky, anthemic and disjointed.
We never wound up playing together on that first Speedy tour, but I did catch them a few months later at a Hampshire College cafeteria, at a somewhat doomed set (during which they broke multiple strings then gave up after three songs). I finally bought their 12-inch record and was amazed by something that doesn’t usually strike me in records: its uniform consistency. Apart from the wobbly synth interludes, a massive percentage of the songs sounded aesthetically akin to “The Spell,” resulting in an album that was seamless but devoid of peaks and valleys.
This was a pretty big turn-off for my friend Erika, who came to see them with me at Hampshire and subsequently panned them in a review. I think the same reasons she disliked the band — their repetitiveness, the apparent simplicity of their songs — were the very sources of my interest. Every song was like brutalist garage-pop, so repetitious you’re forced to focus on tiny variations. The Feeling, similar to Metz’s self-titled debut (which I also loved), is so self-similar that it establishes its personality by stark force. Every track on The Feeling sounds like another track on The Feeling, which makes the listener focus on the discrepancies and further embrace the album’s hallmarks — asymmetrical voodoo-y guitars, splayed and mechanistic drum parts. Ultimately, Naomi Punk proved to be really good at sounding like Naomi Punk.
If one of the great strengths of The Feeling is that it sounds like The Feeling, I might say that Naomi Punk’s new record, Television Man, is also strong because it sounds like The Feeling. It sounds so similar it’s actually astonishing — the rhythmic interplay between the guitarists and drummer is as outwardly craggy as ever, with no bass to hold things down or smooth things out. Just like last time, singer Travis Coster peppers each song with staccato lead melodies reminiscent of fellow Olympian Justin Trosper (Unwound), then layers them with Spector-esque oohs. This record also features those good ol’ synth interludes (one of which is either a reworked version of “The Spell” or Naomi Punk’s self-similarity has really got me twisted). The instrumentation never changes, the tempo stays at a comfortable jog, songs in one key transition to songs in the same key.
It’s only by focusing on these similarities that the shades of difference emerge, like staring hard into a Magic Eye. How often do you listen to rock records and feel compelled to count out the time signatures for the duration of every single song? Better put, how often do the songs shift from 4/4 to 6/8 to 10/8 to (gasp) 11/8 so seamlessly that your Spidey senses for math-rock don’t so much as tingle? By outwardly showcasing their songs’ apparent sameness, Naomi Punk create an aesthetic wholly dependent upon close looking and listening, resulting in an experience more like focusing in front of a series of Rothko paintings than listening to a typical rock band mindlessly dealing in loud-quiet dynamics (although I’m pretty sure my mom has never typified Rothko as “not very relaxing,” which is her pull quote for Naomi Punk if they care to use it). This is the most thoughtfully tedious music you’ve ever found yourself lost inside.
I don’t think this is a band that would be insulted by the label “tedious,” either. I think they revel in their stark redundancy, embracing its simultaneously meditative and abrasive aspects. Much of their artwork, designed by Coster, is of the black-and-white, photocopied-and-pasted-and-copied-and-pasted zine-making lineage. Their website is a discombobulating maze of text and blank space; occasional hyperlinks lead to pages of phrases (like their album title) repeated ad nauseam. One page features the mission statement: “THIS IS A WEBSITE FOR THE PROMULGATION OF NAOMI PUNK AS ANOTHER DEFORMED ART OBJECT IN A CRASS MARKETPLACE OF FILTH AND ROT. NAOMI PUNK IS RELEASING A NEW LP RECORD.” Their self-awareness of Television Man’s monotonous place in a never-ending stream of quarterly new releases — really, their awareness that all records hold a monotonous place in a never-ending stream of quarterly new releases — is also apparent in the somewhat snide track titles, like “Song Factory” and “Eleven Inches.”
There’s a confidence to this sneering. Television Man is Naomi Punk’s second release for Captured Tracks, a label that has increasingly proven itself a taste-making heavyweight since The Feeling was first reissued as CT-166 two years ago. A lot of other bands — heck, most bands, my own included — would feel pressure to diversify, to go bigger, to vary genres, to change sounds and formulas. Naomi Punk barely did any of that. In fact, I get the feeling Naomi Punk sat down and laughed hard at the thought of upping the ante.
“You want us to grow?” asks Naomi Punk from its Naomi Punk cave. “Fuck it, we’re not gonna grow at all. We’re just gonna get really, really good at the thing we were already really good at.” And Naomi Punk is really, really good at being Naomi Punk.