It doesn't generally make any sense to review a demo. They are, by definition, works in progress, meant mainly as reference points for the artist as she moves toward a completed song. When demos do get released, they're usually offered to fans as curios: interesting collectibles that either give some insight into the process of songwriting or present alternate universe takes on the end product.
But then there are demos like Sadie Dupuis's "X Actually": demos that simultaneously throw new light on the artistic process and stand alone as genuinely good songs.
As part of Speedy Ortiz, Dupuis helped create one of 2013's stand-out releases, Major Arcana. Fans of that record know that Dupuis is one of the most vital frontpeople in rock music today. She's a trenchant lyricist, the rare one who actually earns the carelessly bandied-about compliment "poetic". (Check her credentials: she's an MFA candidate). She's also a powerful singer, able to tackle snarling rage, playful sarcasm, and frank emotion with ease.
And, of course, there's her status as a guitar god. It may be early in Dupuis's career to make such an assertion, but it's hard to argue with facts. Dupuis's playing is dynamic, incisive, versatile. She does the searing solos, the chunky riffs, the nimble filigrees -- often, all within the same song. Rarely has a guitar been more expressive than it is in Dupuis's hands.
What's amazing about "X Actually" is that all of this comes through in what is ostensibly a demo. What's interesting is how the track places Dupuis's undeniable talents in a softer, hazier light than Major Arcana's studio-polished tracks did. Dupuis's vocal take is slightly washed, which makes her lyrics come through in revelatory fragments, creating a feeling of hushed intimacy, as opposed to the more declarative gestures of Speedy Ortiz. Dupuis's guitar is still the commanding force listeners have come to know, but it's more subdued in its wanderings, content to linger instead of fly breathlessly forward.
All of this is to ask a simple question, really: what can't Dupuis do?
Listen over at SoundCloud