Waxahatchee | Saint Cloud | (Merge)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, has never shied away from exploring her personal life, with all its ups and mostly downs, in song. Over the course of four previous albums and some EPs, fans have followed the singer/songwriter through generally turbulent times.
Certainly the difficult breakup that informed at least a few of her previous collections laid open her innermost conflicting issues as she struggled to come to terms with them. Her music followed suit, hewing towards the darker, edgier side of indie rock, from 2015’s Ivy Tripp through her previous 2017 release, Out in the Storm. The sound was a mix of Belly fronted by Rickie Lee Jones with wandering melodies, twisty, often ominous backing and Crutchfield’s voice and lyrics out front. The 2020 Waxahatchee modal, disc number five, shifts musical direction to a less aggressive style without diluting her lyrical attack or intriguing, innocent vocals.
Opening with a slow yet determined drum beat on “Oxbow” before shifting to a folk/country/bluesy strum of “Can’t Do Much” (pinching the guitar lick from the soul classic “Slip Away”) Crutchfield sings to her companion “Love you that much anyhow/Can’t do much about it now/I want you, all the time/Sanity, nullified.” But that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing as she explains in the folk-rocking “Hell” that “I release a ramble of a sigh/You illuminate me as I galvanize a flowery demise.”
The soulful purity and gentle Americana thread running through these songs either hasn’t been present before, or was buried so far under the surface it was difficult to see. Crutchfield wrote these songs after deciding to get sober, which might account for their lighter touch. There is still plenty to unpack lyrically in every track, especially as she sings on “Ruby Falls” while walking down 7th street in New York “Real love don’t follow a straight line/It breaks your neck, it builds you a delicate shrine.”
It takes a few spins for the melodies to kick in. Waxahatchee shies away from obvious hooks, preferring a more abstract and oblique way to craft her songs. She often creates a subtle acoustic groove over which words that shift between opaque and direct unspool. It’s an arty, literary yet far from elitist approach that pushes listeners to read along with the lyric sheet to best absorb, process and perhaps untangle her concepts. But when she says “I’m in a war with myself/It’s got nothing to do with you,” it’s clear that she’s working through some issues.
This more elusive, rootsy style suits Crutchfield well. It allows space to capture a clearer eyed vision of a life she’s still trying to balance, sort out and work through …just like the rest of us.