Words by Kate Lockyer
Waxahatchee is an American indie music project by Katie Crutchfield,created in 2010. Her latest album, ‘Saint Cloud’, harks back to Crutchfield’s Americana roots, with a blend of southern guitar and modern touches. ‘Saint Cloud’ was written just after she decided to go sober, and is an honest contemplation of her life, her dreams, and the consequences of addiction. Stripped of overproduction and superfluous instrumentation, but not musical panache, this album has a raw quality that echoes the lyrics. Reflecting on the album, Crutchfield says, “I think all of my records are turbulent and emotional, but this one feels like it has a little dose of enlightenment. It feels a little more calm and less reckless.”
The second song on the album, Can’t Do Much, is a candid admission of the undeniability and difficulty of love. The guitar riff has the unmistakeable twang of a country song, marking Waxahatchee’s style with a return to the influences of her Alabama beginnings. The steady beat and repetitive riff have a comfortable familiarity, like the warmth of your grandmother’s oven, or the sound of a loved one’s laughter. The lyrics tell the story of this familiarity – a yield to emotion, a surrendering of doubts, the reclamation of love. Crutchfield expresses this in “I give it to you all on a dime / I love you till the day I die / I guess it don’t matter why”.
With the first notes of Fire,it is clear that Waxahatchee’s style has changed to something more akin to indie-pop. Understated synth gives her room to breathe lyrically, and we are vividly transported to West Memphis, which is “on fire in the light of day”. It is going through a fiery transformation, much like her self-image. She sings: “I take it for granted / If I could love you unconditionally / I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky / For some of us it ain’t enough”. The songis plagued with quiet desolation but finds redemption with the promise of self-love.
Lilacs pulls the listener into a reflection on old habits and rebirth. An insistent drumbeat depicts “the slow, slow, slow passing of time” mentioned in the song. Soft electric guitar licks create an ambient backdrop, but the lyrics forge something deeper. Crutchfield paces back and forth in her lyrics, declaring at the beginning that “I run it like a silent movie / I run it like a violent song / I run it like a voice compelling / So right it can’t be wrong.” She is pivoting between the difficulty of escaping her demons and the possibility of creating a new life. Imagery of lilacs evoke of the circle of life. At the start of the song they are dying, but at the end, when “the lilacs drank the water”, there is a suggestion of something more hopeful.
‘SAINT CLOUD’ TRACK LISTING:
2 Can’t Do Much
5 The Eye
10 Ruby Falls
11 Saint Cloud
St. Cloud, the final song on the album, is much gentler and more peaceful than Waxahatchee’s other tracks. Considering this album is about a rediscovery of self and a return to sobriety, it makes sense that perhaps this is her homecoming – to St. Cloud. Hushed guitar and simple piano mix with Crutchfield’s unpretentious vocals to let the incisive lyrics take centre stage. This is a bittersweet song about fragility and acceptance, as she sings “I might show up in a white dress / Turn reluctance on its ear / If the dead just go on living / Well there’s nothing left to fear”. This is a song that holds out its hand, palm up, and asks each listener to take away their own message, so at the end of the song, we must each decide what we are “burning slow” for.
The sentiment of the album is summed up in War with the lyrics “I’m in a war with myself / It’s got nothing to do with you”. Ultimately, I think it’s a war she wins, as ‘Saint Cloud’ has a certain tranquillity about it that suggests self-acceptance. Waxahatchee stumbles through the turmoil of a reckoning and comes out on the other side with a more graceful acceptance of herself.