Release Date: Jul 14, 2017
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Through her work as Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield has become a master of blending introversion and extroversion, communicating emotional subtleties with music that sounds best shouted in unison by adoring crowds. Out in the Storm, her fourth album, feels like the culmination of that inverse relationship. Detailing the trajectory of an increasingly destructive long-term relationship, Crutchfield writes with first-person directness and an occasionally jarring self-reflexivity.
The slow rise of Katie Crutchfield - better known as Waxahatchee - has been a fascinating one. Crutchfield has something in her voice that many of her contemporaries simply do not possess. Perhaps it's the southern twang as a result of her being a native Alabaman, perhaps it's the force at which she delivers her devastating lines, but one thing is certain, that she just keeps getting better and better with every album.
Ever since starting as a bedroom recording project and debuting with American Weekend in 2012, Katie Crutchfield has edged closer to a full-band sound. On this, her fourth album as Waxahatchee, she and her bandmates not only achieve that, but produce what is unquestionably their best album to date. Although 2015's Ivy Tripp was released after Crutchfield had ended a long-term relationship, it's Out in the Storm that feels like the definitive breakup record.
I sussed out and turned up her then-current Cerulean Salt, its title announcing all the good in it: those soft starting letters sounding alike but looking so not, each vowel taking turns with all the others like a backbeat. “Lively,” her best song, not only describes veracity (“You lie/ When the truth is as vast as the dark, gray sky”), but also enacts it (“You’d die/ Before you’d look me in the eye,” she sings, peering at us). I made my way to her earlier American Weekend, lo-fi in the classic sense: sturdy, bare, fraught.
What started as a home-recorded solo project for Alabama native Katie Crutchfield, Waxahatchee moved to Philadelphia and gradually expanded in terms of sound and assertiveness, a trend continued on LP number four, Out in the Storm. Contributing factors to its more muscular disposition include the fact that it was recorded in a studio and was co-produced by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile), who encouraged Crutchfield and her band to capture much of it live as a group. That band also happens to include her sister and Merge labelmate Allison Crutchfield, Sleater-Kinney touring guitarist Katie Harkin, former P.S.
K atie Crutchfield, the Alabama-born singer-songwriter behind Waxahatchee, has always tended towards introspection. Over the course of three well received albums, she has traded in the sort of laceratingly honest indie that to the listener feels horribly, yet compellingly intimate. So, the news that album number four is a breakup album, recorded, per the press release, "amidst the dissolution of a noxious relationship", could cause some concern.
Katie Crutchfield's Waxahatchee project has evolved significantly since its inception, and Out in the Storm marks the furthest departure so far from her solo, lo-fi 2012 debut American Weekend. The followup to 2015's pop-leaning Ivy Tripp, Out in the Storm hears Crutchfield unleashing her first effort recorded in a proper studio, with a full band and under the guidance of producer John Agnello. Unsurprisingly, the results are some of Crutchfield's biggest rock'n'roll anthems yet. The LP roars out of the gate with "Never Been Wrong," an unfiltered examination of the fault on both sides of a failing relationship, compressed into a perfectly paced garage rock jam.
Waxahatchee’s third album - 2015’s ‘Ivy Tripp’ - saw Katie Crutchfield enter cruise control. After the unfiltered heartbreak of her debut ‘American Weekend’ and the breakthrough of follow-up ‘Cerulean Salt’, with her third effort it felt like the Philadelphia-based singer was finally hitting her stride without a hitch. Something changed before fourth album ‘Out In The Storm’ though; from the album’s title to its equally blustery, bleak cover art, everything is far from rosy here.
Some albums come with an inescapable narrative that dominates its release. Often, the dissolution of a relationship provides that narrative with the fearless and raw self-analysis becoming the principal line taken by the music press. Sometimes that can detract from the music. Albums such as Beck's Sea Change and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago will be forever dominated by the circumstances in which they were recorded, and it can be difficult to separate the two.
After three albums anatomising various states of twentysomething romantic diffidence, US underground-dweller Katie Crutchfield likens a track on her fourth Waxahatchee LP to "ripping off the band-aid". Out In The Storm bares out the wound-baring pitch. The injuries remain, but its crunchy riffs, sharp melodies and forthright vocals comprise Crutchfield's deepest, most direct emotional diagnoses yet.
After all, if reliability of emotional expression has always been her calling card, then shouldn't that bleed into a more consistent sound from record to record than we've had from her as Waxahatchee so far? She took a noisy, lo-fi pop tack on her first album under the moniker back in 2012, American Weekend, but by the following year, she'd already made considerable moves through the gears. Cerulean Salt was a brooding affair, all stormy atmospherics and nervy claustrophobia; even when it did have a spring in its step, on tracks like "Coast to Coast", the overwhelming sense was that breeziness had given way to belligerence. She went back the opposite way again in 2015, with the release of Ivy Tripp; it largely met with the strongest reviews of her career, and was based around a bare-bones, isolated setup whereby she and Keith Spencer - then both her live drummer and her boyfriend - decamped to a house in Long Island to write and record the album, with only bassist Kyle Gilbride rounding out the lineup.
The title of Katie Crutchfield's new album as Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm, might ring familiar to her longtime fans. After all, it was a snowstorm that once left the songwriter stranded in her parents' Alabama home, an imposed seclusion that directly led to her project's brilliant, trembling debut, American Weekend. The songs on that softly strummed record, according to Crutchfield, were about "being young and having a clumsy moment learning how not to be in a relationship anymore." It's a breakup record, sure, but the type of youthful parting and pain that we can look back on and almost smile at knowingly years later.
"I spend all my time learning how to defeat you at your own game. It's embarrassing." So opens the fourth LP from singer-guitarist Katie Crutchfield's great indie-rock band Waxahatchee: two clear sentences mapping out an album's worth of tangled regret, helplessness, endurance and shame - driven home with burning guitars and ache and hunger in her voice. It starts off the sharpest set of songs Crutchfield has come up with, from the big-drinking, scene-causing country of "8 Ball" to the Nineties guitar churn of "Silver" to the ruggedly pretty ballad "Sparks Fly." Each song is as grueling as it is thrilling.
The cover of Waxahatchee's fourth album, Out in the Storm, isn't the best of 2017, but it might be the most apt. It shows the project's founder Katie Crutchfield up close, head tilted downwards and eyes almost completely obscured by her hair. This sums up the album: Crutchfield brings the listener up close, singing about feelings in the wake of a failed relationship and traversing those emotional waters to reach a point of self-acceptance.
Waxahatchee has served as a self-directed outlet for Katie Crutchfield's endearingly close-to-the-bone musings on relationships and life as a twentysomething, and on the band's fourth album, Out in the Storm, she turns her navel-directed perspective toward a common and perhaps predictable topic: a breakup. To sustain interest and unpredictability in such a singular subject throughout an entire album can be challenge, so it's disappointing, but not surprising, that despite several resonant moments, Crutchfield runs out of new things to say well before Out in the Storm ends. The album's 1990s alt-rock leanings can be distinguished from the ramshackle lo-fi character of previous Waxahatchee efforts.
The highly-anticipated follow-up to 2015’s Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm is Katie Crutchfield’s most emotional and personal and album to date. Her fourth album is distinct in its sonic aesthetic, marked by heavy guitars and pounding, tinny drums. It’s a noticeable departure from the airier, synth-based Ivy Tripp, but the new record maintains the characteristic Waxahatchee sound first heard on 2011’s American Weekend and honed on 2013’s Cerulean Salt.
With self-doubt and self-deprecation acting as the cornerstone for much of Waxahatchee's previous material, it's a welcome, somewhat overdue surprise her fourth album 'Out In The Storm', should see Katie Crutchfield harbouring more confidence and self-belief than ever before. Of course, at its heart, 'Out in the Storm' is still very much a Waxahatchee record, hinged on fuzz-drenched guitars, bubblegum vocal hooks and DIY sensibility. It's just this time, that heart feels bolder, more ballsy, as if the two years since 'Ivy Tripp' have seen Crutchfield put up with too much shit, and this is her making a stand.
Katie Crutchfield knows how to make you cry. Under the Waxahatchee banner she's done this time and time again through a catalog that's incredibly detailed when it comes to raw, human emotion. Out In The Storm is yet another descriptive and highly vulnerable effort -- this time about an indie rocker opening up about the intimacy of break-ups. She goes through all the stages -- grief, anger and eventually, optimism -- set to a soothing backdrop that comforts you if you can relate.
Katie Crutchfield has come a long way, baby, since the trembling hush of American Weekend. You can tell from the opening guitar blast of "Never Been Wrong," the first song on her fourth full-length Out in the Storm , and the pride she takes in declaring, "I love being right.” You can tell when she sings a kind of love song to herself called "Sparks Fly," and on "Brass Beam," when just thinking about her ex makes her want to put a fist in the drywall. For the first time, the apprehension and bit-lip bravery that gave Waxahatchee's earlier albums their introvert charm is matched by fortitude and self-confidence.