Waxahatchee - Saint Cloud Music Album Reviews

With a shift in tone and tempo, Katie Crutchfield creates a vivid modern classic of folk and Americana. It’s the sound of a cherished songwriter thawing out under the sun.

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.

This transformative effect was absent on Crutchfield’s previous solo work. Don’t take that as a knock on her intimate, lo-fi 2012 debut American Weekend or 2013’s remarkable follow-up Cerulean Salt, whose songs of love and harm still land like a hundred little knicks to the flesh. Even as Crutchfield revved up the sound and the stakes on 2017’s searing Out in the Storm, finding darkness deep within her psyche, her songwriting remained bound up in grungy distortion, spare arrangements, and blocky rhythms. Three chords and the truth was always her credo, but Crutchfield needed more room for that credo to thrive.

And so Crutchfield decided to build songs that she could stroll right into. Twirl, even. She resides inside a world that drapes over her like the sky-blue dress she wears on the album’s cover. If that sleeved dress and the old pickup truck didn’t clue you in, Saint Cloud is an album in the thrall of Americana and the country music of her childhood in Birmingham, Alabama: Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, George Jones. Produced with a warm and deft touch by Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger), the album never chugs or lurches into a rock groove. It’s made of simple blues patterns, nothing-fancy chords, and the steady backbeat of a band working only for the song. Every note rings and chimes: a light organ here, the slight twang of a Telecaster there, gently plucked leads on an acoustic back there, all perfectly appointed for Crutchfield’s songwriting. It feels like you’re in possession of a family heirloom.

That ease comes in part because this is the first album Crutchfield wrote after getting sober in 2018. On the outstanding “Fire,” she sings that she’s “wiser, slower, and attuned,” words that also serve as the mood throughout Saint Cloud. Her lyrics wind around and corkscrew a bit more on this record than previous ones, but it’s a feat that Crutchfield pulls off with a daredevil command of verse. “Fire” rings of desperation and conquest, a promise to make oneself meek, small as a bird, even turn into liquid, just to live inside someone: “And when I turn back around/Will you drain me back out/Will you let me believe that I broke through?” Crutchfield told Rolling Stone that she had difficulty writing while sober, but these are some of the most careful and evocative lyrics she’s ever composed.

There’s a subtle difference between writing that digs and writing that discovers. If her older records did the former—peeling back layers of innocence and isolation to get to the nerve-endings—Crutchfield is now a discoverer who sees the world anew. Much of Saint Cloud is wide-eyed and detailed; she sings as if amazed at what she feels. “The Eye” is all about being levitated in those dizzy moments of love. Crutchfield lets the lyrics tumble out of her in a litany, absolutely goofy that her partner will give her something “to think and sing and follow.” The song peaks as Crutchfield builds vocal harmonies that gather behind this image: “A scientific cryptogram lit up behind a jet stream,” and for just a second, as if to highlight the ear-to-ear grin behind the song, a bluegrass chorus of Crutchfields all pile into the words “lit up.”

Because Saint Cloud is so fresh and budding on the outside, Crutchfield can hide her anger and fear inside it. This new contrast gives great dimension to her storytelling, allowing all the sourness and rot at the fringes of her songs to come and go at will. “War” takes on a rambling ’60s Dylan feel, that lets her talk about how she’s prone to “come in hot” and “fill up the room,” but she’s quick to add—as we all do in heated moments—that it has “nothing to do with you.” The trauma buried at the heart of “Arkadelphia Road” is so palpable that the slow-burn tempo makes it glow white. She sings softly, “If we make pleasant conversation/I hope you can’t see what’s burning in me.” Crutchfield is still the patron saint of emotional chaos, but her songs suggest that she’s becoming more of a protector, a homebody, looking to take everything out of storage and either throw it away or keep it safe in a home.

The climax of the record, “Ruby Falls,” is where all of the ambition and aesthetics come together. As she walks down 7th Street in Manhattan, Crutchfield’s wisdom collects into buckets: “Real love don’t follow a straight line/It breaks your neck, it builds you a delicate shrine,” and, “You might mourn all that you wasted/That’s just part of the haul.” Her pen moves ornately across the page, the aperture of her songwriting flies open. The unsparing indie style of Chan Marshall or Liz Phair remains, but Saint Cloud is something far bigger. It isn’t just talking to Lucinda Williams’ 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, it pulls up right beside it, a vivid modern classic of folk and Americana. It’s a record that suggests maybe if you slow down, life slows down with you, and everything is in bloom.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Waxahatchee - Saint Cloud Music Album Reviews Waxahatchee - Saint Cloud Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 30, 2020 Rating: 5


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