Release Date: Mar 27, 2020
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Her excellent new album Saint Cloud acts as a sort of about-face for her, filled with a newborn clarity - even if it's still just "with a partial view" - and a wholly new sound that showers her in a totally different, quite radiant light. There's still sharp observations and introspection aplenty here - Crutchfield's usual MO - but it's now packaged in bright, clean, stripped-back Americana, marking a departure from the ragged, biting lo-fi of first two albums American Weekend and Cerulean Salt, and the fuller, louder, alt-rock of Ivy Tripp and Out in the Storm. No longer hiding behind a wall of distortion or snaggled strumming, the Alabama-born singer puts her signature southern drawl front and centre, musing on the fresh perspective she's picked up on her staple subject.
Albums that surface in the wake of sobriety frequently hold striking results - the fierce creativity of David Bowie's 'Heroes' and DIIV's recent clear-headed, focused 'Deceiver' spring to mind.The same whiff of reinvention and wide-eyed awakening lingers in the songs of Waxahatchee's 'Saint Cloud'. On her fifth album, Katie Crutchfield exchanges the rugged tone of her last few LPs for a softer palate that employs piano, the soft strum of an acoustic guitar and dusty drums. This exercise of restraint gives her songwriting a little more room to breathe which, in turn, illuminates her gravitational vocal tone and transcendent lyrical turns.
Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) built her sound on lo-fi home-recorded records like American Weekend and Cerulean Salt, progressed to pop-leaning indie rock on Ivy Tripp, then experimented with a full-band and full-blown distortion on Out in the Storm. On her latest album, Saint Cloud, Crutchfield strips it all back and embraces her Americana influences — and the results are beautiful. Saint Cloud opens with a sprinkling of digital noise on "Oxbow" before settling into the twangier sound that permeates the 11-song record.
With Katie Crutchfield's fifth solo album comes the spring, its essence bottled so powerfully you could name a perfume after it: Saint Cloud, by Waxahatchee. Its sensory trigger has the power to replace the memory of whatever you call this atrophic season happening around us. Instead, Saint Cloud is all lilacs and creek beds, Memphis skylines and Manhattan subways, love and sobriety, the sound of a cherished songwriter thawing out under the sun.
The opening track of Waxahatchee’s (aka Katie Crutchfield) latest album, Saint Cloud, is titled “Oxbow.” Like its name implies, the song gently wends its way through boomy drumbeats and modulating synths to empty out into an alluvial plain of Crutchfield’s relationships with friends, family, lovers, and herself. The song’s twisty path and lo-fi production do little to prepare the listener for the fertile harvest that is to come. In fact, the earliest released single from the album, “Fire,” though patently fine of its own account, is something of a red herring itself.
Following the defiant alt-rock of her John Agnello-produced fourth album, Out in the Storm, Katie Crutchfield makes another adjustment to the course of her one-time bedroom project Waxahatchee with the warmer, more contemplative Saint Cloud. Shedding distortion in favor of a more easygoing, country-rock sensibility, the album's backing band is perhaps the best indicator of its sound; joining her throughout are Bonny Doon's Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo, Bonny Light Horseman's Josh Kaufman, and Elvis Perkins in Dearland's Nick Kinsey. Saint Cloud's cover art underscores the approach with a photo of Crutchfield striking a pose on a pickup truck.
The Lowdown: Katie Crutchfield, also known as Waxahatchee, shifts her voice and shows her versatility more than ever on her new record, Saint Cloud. Her fifth album pays tribute to her Alabama roots, taking guitar sounds and instrumentation from country and folk to create a powerful salute to Americana. Saint Cloud's distinct sounds paint pictures of staring out at distant views, skin reflecting gold in the Southern sun, and it elicits the now-delayed passage of growing up and becoming self-aware.
'Saint Cloud' is the first Waxahatchee album since Katie Crutchfield became sober, and what's resulted is a freshness in the eye of the songwriter. Having spent the last decade working in scruffy indie-rock, it's somewhat shocking to hear the crystalline palette used on 'Saint Cloud', and even moreso to hear her perfect falsetto - shocking because it sounds so damn good and we had no idea she had it in her. The spirit of country legends like Dolly Parton are the constellations above 'Saint Cloud', but the details are grounded in Crutchfield's experience.