Review: Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

  Please allow me to begin by stating the obvious: Waxahatchee is not Waxahatchee’s real name. It’s a pseudonym, which is a fancy way of saying that Katie Crutchfield had the self-awareness to recognise that people would struggle to take someone with her last name seriously, no matter how good her music.

It’s not a surprising conclusion, given that if self-awareness were iron ore, then Crutchfield would be too busy sipping cocktails on her private island in the Bahamas to make music. Let’s be glad that this isn’t the case, because then we’d miss out on this beautiful application of the formula self-examination + confession = catharsis to ordinary moments of disappointment and regret.

Cerulean Salt is startlingly personal, raw, and vulnerable.

It’s folky and American.

Oh, and it sounds great.

Basically, Waxahatchee has gone the way of Bon Iver and Cloud Nothings, ditching the whole cabin-in-the-woods/my-parent’s-basement vibe and replacing it with distortion, occasional harmonies, and — prepare to be shocked — drums and bass in most songs. Given that the average arts student could create a pretty passable facsimile of Crutchfield’s 2012 album quicker than you can say American Weekend, this is a bold move.

One of the immediately obvious results is that some of these songs are the most agreeably upbeat I’ve heard from Crutchfield. Waxahatchee isn’t likely to open for Grouplove any time soon, but “Coast to Coast” still has a Summer’s worth of sunshine: catchy hooks, fuzzy guitars, and subliminal encouragements to set up that hammock your sister got you for Christmas a few years back.

That said, simple, fragile vignettes remain Crutchfield’s bread-and-butter. The opening track “Hollow Bedroom” begins where American Weekend left off, until Crutchfield makes it pretty clear halfway through that she’s swapped her acoustic for something with a bit more oomph. Good for her (and us); the result is glorious. Instead of swallowing her, the denser sound showcases Crutchfield’s delicate voice and intimate lyrics: violent bursts of emotion and noise are examined, catalogued and internalised as quickly as they erupt.

This is what makes the penultimate “Peace and Quiet” so sublime: instead of collapsing under the weight of their own sentimentality, lines like “you’ll blame my hard-working father for harm you cannot atone” demonstrate Crutchfield’s enviable ability avoid esoteric self-pity through her own artistic restraint.

The album is structured as half a conversation, where the unnamed interlocker — the enigmatic “you” — could be a lover, friend, or parent. Through this ambiguity, we’re invited to fill in the blanks with our own experiences of miscommunication and relational breakdown. Here’s Crutchfield’s genius: she tricks us into thinking that she only wants our sympathy, when what her music really demands is our participation.

I can’t really tell you what that looks like in practice because a) I haven’t even half worked it out for myself, and b) I’ve reached the end of my review.

Some housekeeping matters: Did I mention that it sounds fantastic? Did I mention the fuzzy guitars? Did I use the words “fragile” and “raw” and “intimate” enough?

I believe so. Good.

Please listen to this album. It’s fantastic.

– Album Review by Dylan Chalwell