Waxahatchee is Alabama’s Katie Crutchfield - ex-punk, veteran adolescent, restless twentysomething. Debut LP American Weekend, stamped with confrontational intimacy and nervous tape hiss, chronicled her ongoing self-appraisal, a personal whirlwind of close friends and distant family that rarely overestimated our interest. It was a moving, albeit straightforward document. On one hand it’s hard to imagine any plucky teen already acquainted with the Mountain Goats’ catalogue burning their braces and breathlessly proclaiming its genius, but in a genre fraught with sinkholes the album stood its ground, shrieking its sorrows and keenly-trained on the territory.
Recorded with friends in their shared Philadelphia hangout, American Weekend’s follow-up planes down and turns up with electric conviction. Helping out are three quarters of Swearin’ - twin sister Allison’s excellent punk-pop band - but you wouldn’t know it. There are maximal expulsions, amplified and harmonious, evoking noisier Cat Power or Nina Nastasia. But they issue from Crutchfield’s strained voice and peaking guitar rather than frivolous embellishments. There’s a reflective, forced composure in the vocal, often double-tracked with Allison’s, something invoking the epic and noble assurance of secret diary tirades when she gets going, a pretty squall of spiked reverie and colloquial cadence.
Yet for all its familiar, wooly-sweatered signifiers - eg self-deprecation mingling with outsider cynicism (“this place is vile and I am vile” - ‘You’re Damaged’; “make up sits on your face like tar” - ‘Dixie Cups and Jars’) - Cerulean Salt rejects fey-indie typecasting. You picture these entries touching many: the bedroom fanatic, pariah cheerleader, strong, powerful women, quiet sensitive men, prime number-enthusiasts, private geniuses who persevere with Dostoyevsky. It’s a smart, smouldering thing, and while its author lives and dies on our empathy, she’s precise and engaging enough to most often get it.
Undoubtedly the record culminates rather than surpassing the 24-year-old’s years. Often Crutchfield romanticises adversity (“I’ll write a tragic epilogue, and you’ll act it out”) before emptying out residual sentiment like leftover cans: “I will find a way to leave gracefully or I’ll escape... I’m an arid abyss”. Like much of her audience, she’s more interested in problems than solutions. Cerulean Salt’s romance manifests in pathos-steeped shrugs. “We’ll wake up sober two years later and we’re loving”, Crutchfield chants mock-sweetly on ‘Blue Part II’, apparently invoking the routine love-yous of despondence over anything slushier: “The atmosphere is fucking tired, it brings us nothing,” the couplet closes.
Ultimately Crutchfield writes for herself and does so well; leaving her music, there’s no question whose side we’re on. How loudly we cheer, however, is a matter of listener-artist compatibility, and Cerulean Salt is a reliquary of youth to which some will travel more eagerly than others. A spokesperson for wearied souls, Waxahatchee leaves the rest of us intrigued but far from in love.
6Jazz Monroe's Score