There’s an established narrative, a trajectory that the critically acclaimed indie band is supposed to follow. The first album should be the raw, striking, personal howl that comes out of nowhere and builds itself a cult. The second album is where the band beefs up its sound, gets marginally more professional, and really starts to build an audience. On the third album, the band gets a little more experimental, and maybe signs to a bigger label. All the while, the rep grows bigger, and so does the band’s font size on festival posters. Maybe satellite radio picks up a song, or maybe a song shows up in a prestige cable drama. That, at the moment, is how careers happen, and it happens so often that it’s almost more interesting when a band blows it somewhere along the line and loses that upward momentum. But one remarkable thing about Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee has been the way she’s hit all those marks in completely organic ways, coming across as an artist who’s just finding and developing her voice. Nothing is forced. Crutchfield never sounds like she’s reacting to hype. Instead, in the three years since she released her stark acoustic solo debut American Weekend, Crutchfield has pushed and expanded her sound without losing the sense of intimacy or openness of that first record. Her lyrics still read like poetic, fragmented diary scribbles. Her voice still has a conversational longing to it. She still writes hooks, and those hooks are still so homespun and inviting that they don’t register as “hooks.” And while her emotive bedroom punk rock owes a lot of things to a lot of sources, it still feels like a genre that belongs completely to her.
Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee’s third album, sounds bigger and more ambitious and expansive than either of Crutchfield’s previous two. The guitars sparkle more, and her vocals come through more cleanly and clearly. The album has drum machines and synths and pianos, things that didn’t exist on those last two albums. But in reality, it’s as DIY an affair as Cerulean Salt, which for my money was the best rock album anyone released in 2013. Crutchfield recorded Ivy Tripp when she was between labels, figuring she’d just shop it around when she was done making it — so even though she’s releasing it on bigger-indie Merge after moving on from Don Giovanni, she made it without the involvement of either label. Instead, she and musical collaborator/then-boyfriend Keith Spencer rented a house in Long Island and recorded the whole album there. The only musicians on the album are Crutchfield, Spencer, and Kyle Gilbride, the album’s engineer. Crutchfield, Spencer, and Gilbride all produced the album together. Gilbride and Spencer also play in Swearin’, the band led by Crutchfield’s twin sister Allison. And while the album sounds bolder and more experimental, that’s really just the result of Crutchfield and her collaborators trying out the sounds of all the different rooms in the house, tinkering with things, multitracking Crutchfield’s voice until she was a one-woman choir. On “Summer Of Love,” we hear a dog barking a few times, and it’s not an added-in sound-effect; a dog was just barking when she recorded it. The album sounds the way it does because Crutchfield and her friends figured out way to make it sound that way. If you had the talent and the wherewithal to learn how, you and a couple of friends could make an album that sounded like this, too.
For this album, Waxahatchee are heading out on tour as a three-guitar behemoth, which makes sense. Some of the album’s songs have such a wall of fuzz that, even if Crutchfield and her collaborators were just multitracking a single guitar, she’ll need reinforcements to make it sound right live. And honestly, I can’t imagine Ivy Tripp sounding any better if she’d recorded it in a proper studio. The organ sustain and ooh-ooh backing vocals and power-chord crashes all feel finely sculpted and expertly arranged. “Half Moon” is just Crutchfield and a piano, and it’s so slow and spare and confident that it doesn’t feel like a departure in the slightest. “Under A Rock” is a fizzy dream-punk kiss-off with its ragged guitars stinging so sweetly that I have to reach for early-’90s power-poppers Material Issue to find the right parallel. Halfway into the lament “>,” all these polyrhythmic drums and clanging, weirdly tuned guitars come in and disrupt the vibe so completely that it sounds like the song is falling apart. Just one album back, Crutchfield might’ve played all these songs as straightforward punkers or acoustic whispers. But show she’s learned to use the studio and an instrument, even if the studio in question is just some old suburban house she rented.
Lyrically, too, Crutchfield has the courage to follow her own ideas. She’s still singing about that fuckup life, about being in your twenties and not knowing what you want out of a relationship, or how to get it. On “The Dirt,” she sings, “I wasted my boredom hastily / I’m in a basement brimming with nothing great.” You won’t find a better evocation of what it’s like to realize you’re spending prime years feeling like you’re fucking around and doing nothing. “Air” is about being with a good person but knowing that it’s not going to work: “And you are patiently giving me / Everything that I will never need.” Or at least I think that’s what she’s singing about on both of those songs. Crutchfield sings more elliptically than she once did, and you can read your own meanings between the lines: “You see me how I wish I was / But I’m not trying to be seen.” And even when she’s singing about being lost, her voice is tender and strong and real, the voice of someone who’s figuring her shit out even if she’s not getting there as quickly as she might like. By just about every account, Katie Crutchfield absolutely is someone who has her shit figured out, at least from a musical point of view. And Ivy Tripp is the sound of an already-vital voice finding out it can do new things. That’s an exciting thing to hear.
Other albums of note out today:
• The Mountain Goats’ lovely and personal pro wrestling scrapbook Beat The Champ.
• Toro Y Moi’s psychedelic, jangling What For?
• American Wrestlers’ swaggering, mysterious lo-fi self-titled debut.
• Fred Thomas’ sparse, thoughtful All Are Saved.
• Matt And Kim’s nasal party record New Glow.
• Brian Wilson’s guest-heavy blissout No Pier Pressure.
• WATERS’ giddy power-popper What’s Real.
• Shlohmo’s bass-heavy instrumental record Dark Red.
• Weed’s vibe-heavy old-school indie rocker Running Back.
• Poison Idea’s old-school hardcore blitz Confuse & Conquer.
• Minsk’s post-metal churner The Crash And The Draw.
• The Very Best’s euphoric Afro/Euro pop utopian Makes A King.
• Denai Moore’s finely sculpted smart-pop debut Elsewhere.
• This Is the Kit’s earthy grower Bashed Out.
• Soft Cat’s communal, new agey folker All Energy Will Rise.
• Obnox’s garage-rock attack Know America.
• Doldrums’ pulsating, cohesive The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.
• White Hills’ way-out psych-rocker Walks For Motorists.
• Lord Huron’s expansive, grandiose Strange Trails.
• Shana Falana’s dark psychedelic pop debut Set Your Lightning Fire Free.
• Young Fathers’ art-rap bugout White Men Are Black Men Too.
• Tree Blood’s noise-punk debut I Am A Disgusting Pig.
• GABI’s drifting, classical-influenced Sympathy.
• Drenge’s scuzzy, energetic rocker Undertow.
• Royal Thunder’s bloody-minded classic rocker Crooked Doors.
• Cloud’s glossy, shimmering Zen Summer.
• Malthusian’s esoteric death metal trip Below The Hengiform.
• Délétère’s atmospheric black metal mood piece Les Heures De La Peste.
• Garden City Movement’s Modern West EP.
• Chris Farren’s Where U Are EP.
• Wilder Maker’s Everyday Crimes Against Objects Of Desire, Vol II EP.
• Mute Forest’s Infinity Pools EP.