Album Of The Week: Waxahatchee Out In The Storm
We don’t deserve the Crutchfields. These two Alabama-raised, Philadelphia-based twin sisters are so beyond the rest of the indie rock world that it’s not even funny. They both have incredible voices, voices that soar, the Southern grit in their drawls elevating the diary-scribble intensity of their lyrics into something bold and tangible and timeless. They both write with a vivid electricity about what it’s like to be young and to watch your life fall apart. And they both push each other to be better all the time. They both got their start in the DIY pop-punk band P.S. Eliot, and last year, they reunited that band for a series of inspiring endorphin-rush live shows. Then, earlier this year, Allison Crutchfield released Tourist In This Town, her first solo album, a collection of fuzzed-out indie-pop songs that stands as one of the best indie rock albums that 2017 has yet given us. And now her sister Katie, who records as Waxahatchee, has followed that up with Out In The Storm, quite possibly the best indie rock album that 2017 has yet given us. Her sister Allison helped her record it, playing keyboards and singing huge, heart-ripping harmonies. There’s a moment on the album track “Sparks Fly” where Katie is singing about staying up all night in a Berlin bar and watching the sun come up: “Then I see myself through my sister’s eyes / I’m a live wire, electrified.” Both sisters sing it together. It’s enough to crush you.
On tour, Waxahatchee have been a band for years. If you caught them touring behind 2015’s gorgeous Ivy Tripp, then you’ve already heard the two Crutchfield twins singing together, since Allison was a part of the touring band. But on record, Waxahatchee has always been a solo concern. Katie recorded Ivy Tripp in a rented Long Island house. It only features three musicians: Crutchfield, producer Keith Spencer, and engineer Kyle Gilbride. Crutchfield released the album on Merge, but she recorded it before she had a label. It sounds stunning, but it was entirely a DIY affair. Out In The Storm is another story. This time around, Crutchfield recorded it in an actual studio with John Agnello, the veteran indie rock record who’s worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. and the Hold Steady. And Agnello recorded Waxahatchee as a full band, capturing them all playing in a room together and only adding minimal overdubs. Allison was in the band this time. So were their old P.S. Eliot bandmate Katherine Simonetti, Pinkwash’s Ashley Arnwine, and Sky Larkin leader/Sleater-Kinney touring guitarist Katie Harkin. These four musicians all make sense together. And hearing a band like this playing on Katie’s songs, it’s like they’ve been strapped to a rocket.
First single “Silver” is practically a platonic ideal of fired-up, fuzzed-out ’90s-style power-pop. “Sparks Fly” starts out as a slow-crushing acoustic strummer and thanks to keyboard-swirl and chorus hugeness, sounds like something epic within two minutes. “No Question” has rip-snorting glam-guitar leads and a new vengefulness in Crutchfield’s vocals; it’s the first time I can remember her sounding like a straight-up rock star. “Brass Beam” has just a touch of old-school country stomp underneath all its dreamy guitars and harmonies. And closer “Fade,” like the last song on every Waxahatchee album, is a straight-up weeper, a slow and heartfelt acoustic ballad that’s so vulnerable that I almost feel guilty hearing it. But because of Agnello’s sparkling production job, it’s not really a throwback to American Weekend, Crutchfield’s stark and lo-fi solo debut. Instead, at least sonically, it has more to do with the work that Agnello did in the ’80s, working as a recording engineer for hitmakers like Cyndi Lauper and the Outfield, back before he became an indie rock go-to guy. There isn’t one song on the album that’s less than great, and all of them fit together, but it still covers a ton of aesthetic space. You can’t get bored listening to it. Crutchfield is just too good at negotiating the dynamics of an album, at knowing how to tell a story. She takes us across peaks and valleys, and even though she never sits still for long, there’s no whiplash there, either. It’s always clear that we’re listening to one artist with a whole lot to say.
And what she has to say this time around is cold and unforgiving, and it’s all directed at one particular lameass. Like Tourist In This Town, Out In The Storm is a breakup album. But unlike a lot of other breakup albums, it’s not about wallowing in misery or wondering how you’ll ever find a love like this again. It’s not an album about finding fault in yourself. Instead, it’s about that moment where you’ve got enough distance that you can look back on your relationship and wonder how in the fuck you spent so much time with someone so worthless. The album works as a merciless 35-minute ethering, a pointed and eloquent dissection of everything that was wrong with this asshole. It’s about shitty arguments: “You love being right / You’ve never been wrong.” It’s about that growing distance that only becomes noticeable when it becomes all too obvious: “The kiss on my lips starts to feel unfamiliar / A part of me rots and my skin turns all silver.” It’s about feeling yourself become a character in somebody else’s imagined story of his own life: “I got lost in your rendition of reality / All my offering rendered boring hyperbole.” And it’s about realizing that you’ve been allowing someone else to hold you back all this time, regretting how you could’ve lived your life if this other person hadn’t been around: “I laid down next to you for three years, shedding my skin / Dreaming about the potential, the person I could’ve been.”
It’s not that Crutchfield never admits fault. She knows that she made a mistake by getting herself involved with this person, and, looking back, she can understand how it happened: “See, I always gravitate towards those who are unimpressed / I saw you as a big fish / I saw you as a conquest.” But this is also some ice-cold shit. I love how Crutchfield sings about unwittingly feeding someone else’s theatrical martyr complex: “You look for me in the broken glass and styrofoam / Painting yourself as a sufferer, a stepping stone / You work real hard to herd your friends into a gallery / Narcissistic injury disguised as a masterpiece.” And in laying waste to all that, Crutchfield has made something of a masterpiece of her own: A beautifully rendered fuck-off of an album, one built to outlast even the nastiest of memories.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Sheer Mag’s classic-rock snort-stomper Need To Feel Your Love.
• Terrace Martin collective the Pollyseeds’ breezy jazz-funk debut The Sounds Of Crenshaw Vol. 1.
• Japanese Breakfast’s sharp, synthy indie-popper Soft Sounds From Another Planet.
• Shabazz Palaces’ twin art-rap concept albums Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star and Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines.
• The Decemberists psych-folk side project Offa Rex’s debut The Queen Of Hearts.
• Post-Chumped band Katie Ellen’s country-influenced pop-punk debut Cowgirl Blues.
• Mura Masa’s guest-heavy self-titled debut.
• Boris’ fuzz-drenched doom rager Dear.
• David Bazan-led band Lo Tom’s self-titled debut.
• Integrity’s arty hardcore crusher Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume.
• Merchandise side project Coca Leaf’s funky, psychedelic debut Deep Marble Sunrise.
• Suicide frontman Alan Vega’s posthumous LP IT.
• Dasher’s roaring punk debut Sodium.
• Arthur Vint & Associates’ jazz tribute to Ennio Morricone Death Rides A Horse.
• Neil Young’s previously unreleased acoustic album Hitchhiker.
• Coldplay’s Kaleidoscope EP.
• SQÜRL’s EP #260.
• Slaughter Beach, Dog’s Motorcycle.jpg EP.