Review Summary: and you will breathe depleted, but much better off without me
Now working under the moniker Waxahatchee after the disbandment of P.S. Eliot, Katie Crutchfield’s recent solo work can best be described as emotionally charged, lo-fi, minimalistic folk music. Her first album, American Weekend
, (which was released just last year) was a record completely stripped of any fluff or musical flourishes, and delivered a straight-forward, immensely honest piece of story-telling music. The tracks all fizzle in and out, recalling that distinct boombox-era Mountain Goats kind of sound, and many of the songs (all of them, even?) rely on the same 4 chords, the same strumming pattern, and the same song structure. These are far from negatives though; in fact, many of these techniques or habits became early trademarks of her sound. The album was impressive because, in spite of all of this minimalism, Waxahatchee was still able to deliver an album full of deep meaning and massive emotional weight. The music may have been simple, but it was the backdrop that she chose to present her heart-wrenching stories of love and loss against, and the two combined to near perfection.
While the turnaround between records has been abnormally quick, much has changed on her sophomore LP, Cerulean Salt
, at least on the surface. The song-writing is still about as straight-forward as you could imagine, and much of the instrumentation is still sparsely arranged around her solitary vocal line. However, this time around, her lonely acoustic guitar has gained some company. Tracks from this album regularly feature electric guitar parts, bass-guitar lines, and drums. They are not just gimmicks however, and Waxahatchee clearly demonstrates her ability to pair lyrics with an appropriate musical tone. If this means using distortion or even (gasp!) a rock beat, then that’s exactly what she does. The album is still loaded with “solo” songs (Tangled Envisioning, for example): nothing but Crutchfield’s beautiful vocals and that oh-so-lovable acoustic strumming to warm our ears. This time around though, it is clear that she has added to her arsenal, and is not afraid to use anything at her disposal to achieve that desired sound.
For the most part, like its predecessor, this album is a simple folk record, and the focus should be less on the instrumentation and how complex it may or may not be, and more on the lyrical themes of the album. Well, carrying on from where American Weekend
left off, Cerulean Salt
is chalk-full of intensely personal lyrics that are devastating, and desperately relatable. As a reviewer of lyrical folk music like this, it’s hard not to go on about the many incredible lyrical passages. For the record, this album definitely offers plenty to go on about, but that would be ultimately pointless. For the sake of brevity, I offer this great passage from the song ‘Swan Dive’ – a definite highlight: Won’t you sleep with me every night for a week? Won’t you just let me pretend this is the love I need? Now I will grow out of all the empty words I often speak, and you will breathe depleted, but much better off without me.
Katie Crutchfield tells her stories. They’re simple stories mainly, about lovers had and lost, about memories now fading. And really, on the whole, that’s what this album boils down to: it’s kind of simple. That word usually carries a negative connotation, but I use it in the most positive way possible. She doesn’t bother with frills, musical or lyrical, she gets to the point. And, occasionally, she’ll break your heart in the process. The emotion of this album almost jumps through the speakers – something about everything
about this album just feels so real, so human and personal.
Waxahatchee’s first album was a strictly acoustic guitar and vocals offering of pure, raw emotion and a gritty lo-fi aesthetic, her Zopilote Machine
or Nothing for Juice
(to revisit my earlier comparison to The Mountain Goats). Cerulean Salt
is a unique album in that she seems to have one foot still firmly planted in the world of stripped down, acoustic folk, and another one beginning to explore adding rock instruments and different aesthetics to her music. It’s not quite Tallahassee
, but maybe it’s her All Hail West Texas
. And in a way, that’s fitting, because this truly feels like a statement album from her. This is the music that Katie Crutchfield makes now, and damn is it good.