waxahatchee

Waxahatchee’s ‘Cerulean Salt’ was comfortably one of the best records of 2013 – and one that I still go back to on a monthly basis, at the very least – and yet it’s a little tricky, in technical terms, to pin down precisely what it was that made it such an endearing listen. It certainly didn’t struggle for intimacy when it shot for it (Katie Crutchfield is a startlingly forthright songwriter, and has an obvious knack for knowing when and how to strip things back for emotive effect) and, having been recorded in Crutchfield’s house, it carried with it both the charms and the frustrations of what was effectively a bedroom recording. Ultimately, though, ‘Cerulean Salt’ made us all sit up and listen because it was quite evidently the work of a prodigiously talented young musician with a keenly crafted identity of her own.

Heading into ‘Ivy Tripp’, then, it’s difficult to know quite what to expect. You know these songs must have been written on the road (Crutchfield’s barely been off of it since the summer of 2012) and laid down pretty sharpish, too, again at her home in Long Island, New York. Atmospherically, it’s a very different beast to ‘Cerulean Salt’; it’s evident that Crutchfield wasn’t overly concerned with the idea of producing something totally cohesive, and instead this feels like it’s probably the best thirteen of innumerable songs that had their genesis in the back of a van.

Accordingly, there’s plenty of room for stylistic experimentation; opener ‘Breathless’ is spacey, woozy, the vocal underpinned minimally by a growling, distorted guitar line, whilst ‘Less Than’ is similarly pared-down – just a sluggish, grungy riff and sparse drums offering Crutchfield backing. Elsewhere, though, there’s no shortage of evidence that she’s also indulged her pop sensibilities. ‘Under a Rock’ is this record’s ‘Coast to Coast’, screaming out with the pop-punk influences that have been blatantly obvious ever since her ‘American Weekend’ debut in 2010. ‘La Loose’, with its sequenced drum track, is possibly the album’s sharpest left turn, whilst ‘Grey Hair’ and ‘The Dirt’ serve as impressive testament to Crutchfield’s ear for a good melody.

Perhaps the enduring image of Waxahatchee to date, though, is the one that portrays Crutchfield as the confessional songwriter, as is well-documented. She has the cover art from Rilo Kiley’s ‘The Execution of All Things’ tattooed on her right arm, and it’s always been clear that she brings a touch of Jenny Lewis’ penchant for witty, poised lyricism to the table. Of the straightforward acoustic efforts on ‘Ivy Tripp’, ‘Summer of Love’ encapsulates her fondness for irresistible simplicity nicely, although more arresting is seeing her turn to the piano on the beautiful ‘Half Moon’. ‘Stale by Noon’, meanwhile, with its sampled xylophone loops, plays like a lullaby for those prone to existential crises – think a sharper take on Eels’ ‘I Need Some Sleep’.

‘Air’ was the first song made public from ‘Ivy Tripp’, and in many ways encapsulates it best; it’s eccentric and uneven, sure, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you’re listening to the work of one of the finest young songwriters in America. This is certainly a collection of songs, as opposed to an intricately crafted, close-knit record, but when the individual songs are this good, that’s really not a problem.

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