Saying an album is career defining is stating a lot. For some artists, it’s too early to say such things. However, for Katie Crutchfield, it’s pretty safe to say that her new album Saint Cloud under her stage moniker Waxahatchee is just that. Years ago when interviewing Crutchfield, she emphasized the importance of the South to her. It seems like it was true as the new album is not only Waxahatchee at their most realized, but it’s rife with southern tones that showcase the strengths of Crutchfield’s vocals and songwriting.
The album feels true to who Crutchfield is at her core. Opening with “Oxbow,” the electronics that intertwine with traditional instruments get met with Crutchfield’s vocals to create a symphonic harmony. The lull of peacefulness that flows from the song’s haze introduces you to a more intimate side of what the band does. While the song works, the album really begins to open up on “Can’t Do Much.” Channeling her inner Lucinda Williams, Crutchfield brings a southern charm to the track that feels personal without beating you over the head with intimacy. The twang of the guitars, the pop of the drums and the backing vocals add a depth that’s been missing from Waxahatchee songs for a good while. In many ways, it’s as if the artist is home and at peace with wear her focus is.
However, while the album holds its strengths in powerful songs, there’s some softer tracks that pop just as bright. On “The Eye” there’s a break in the vocals where a scratch appears, as if Crutchfield is singing with all of her heart. It’s beautiful because it’s not perfect. It’s stunning because it’s so human. It’s perfect because it’s imperfect. On “Arkadelphia” there’s these drums that sound like they’re summoning something larger that bookmark the track. Wedged between the tender vocals, the mix of the pedal steel and the guitar hides a ballad that you can’t walk away from. The same can be said about the piano lead track “Ruby Falls,” where Crutchfield has all the makings of a seventies songstress.
But within these tender moments are songs that embody everything you think Waxahatchee could have always been. You’re used to the vocals hitting you like a thunderstorm, and the honesty to wash over you to where you feel like the songs are written to you. “Fire” exemplifies this, as if the song is a first take from the lyrics on the page. The way the music pairs perfectly with the words is as perfect as songwriting gets. However you may not be used to the fully fleshed out feel that many of these songs have. Almost as if they’re coming from memory to tape, the album has new steps you might not have expected the group to take. The best track of the album, “War” is the best display of such moves. Almost like a Buddy Holly track, the song has everything you’ve wanted from Waxahatchee. Aside from the honesty and truth, there’s this twang filled bop to the song that feels like the southern jam you wished other acts would’ve embodied. Of course you realize that the song is one that only Katie Crutchfield could have written, which is what makes Saint Cloud so extraordinary. Finally at home, the album proves there’s no shame in returning to your roots, when your roots are so genuine to the core.
Saint Cloud is available to preorder directly from Merge Records on multiple formats ahead of its release tomorrow. It will also be ready to stream on all streaming sites or to purchase in all digital outlets. Waxahatchee is scheduled to appear in Zapopan, Mexico at Corona Capital Guadalajara on May 17 until October 18 in Madison, WI at Majestic Theatre. Their complete tour dates can be accessed here. Due to COVID-19, all dates are subject to change.
Image Credits: Photo by Molly Matalon.