by Maddie Farr ’18
“I’m not trying to be a rose,” sings Waxahatchee — whose true name is Katie Crutchfield — on “Breathless,” the opening track off her third album, Ivy Tripp. “You see me how / I wish I was / But I’m not trying to be seen.” In the context of the song, this is a personal message about a failing relationship, but it is also a statement about Crutchfield’s music. Her music is assertive and strong, but also unassuming; it is deeply confessional but not asking to be decoded. Her music is a performance and a gift, but it is also for herself alone — she is not asking to be seen. But, with each new song, she has allowed us to see her, and thus our own selves, a little more — and for that we should be grateful.
Crutchfield formed Waxahatchee in 2010 when she recorded a series of searingly personal songs in a week, on a computer, in an old family house. The result, American Weekend, was released in 2012 by Don Giovanni Records. Her follow-up, 2013’s Cerulean Salt (also on Don Giovanni), features a fuller sound and a fleshed-out band but the same sullen gracefulness as her previous work.
Ivy Tripp marks a multitude of changes for Waxahatchee. Crutchfield has signed to a new label (the historic Merge Records, home to bands like Arcade Fire and Spoon), enlisted some new instruments (synths! keyboards! oh my!), and expanded her scope and length. This is her “poppiest” album yet, but somehow through the new sounds and themes it doesn’t feel all that different. This is the Crutchfield we’ve always known, just a few years older. And the quietly gutting lyrics that have characterized her work since the days of P.s. Eliot — the band Crutchfield fronted with her twin sister Alison, which disbanded in 2011 — remain unchanged.
Perhaps the biggest change in Ivy Tripp is in the direction of Katie’s writing, which has previously felt more inward than outward. This album is an observation — on her friends, her lovers, her world. It tells how she sees life being lived, but that doesn’t make it any less personal. We are hearing life filtered through Crutchfield first, and the result is feeling like you’re sitting on her porch barefoot, watching a graceless summer night play itself out, listening to her tell you beautiful, angry stories that feel suddenly like they are your own.
This is not the unapologetically self-critical Crutchfield of American Weekend, nor is it the nostalgic Crutchfield of Cerulean Salt. The voice we are hearing now is stronger than it’s ever been, and we should listen. Crutchfield has something to say.
Best tracks (this was very, very hard):
1. “Stale by Noon” – Lyrically, this is my favorite song on the album. It starts with Crutchfield singing, “Ethereal / I’m in bloom / torturing the afternoon.” I mean, wow. This song is an interesting mix of classic Crutchfield regret and emotion and doubt and wonder, but it is set to a quiet keyboard melody, which — for Waxahatchee — is a very new sound.
2. “Blue” – Lush melodies and a rhythmically beautiful chorus combine to form the most relaxing song. But then Crutchfield throws in a line like, “Some are allergic to the sun / They’ll grow numb in the long run / They’ll get everything they want.” And then you start to question your whole life and think about what it means to live and consider never leaving your bed but then decide to not be allergic to the sun and grow numb and then you go outside.
3. “Bonfire” – This is the closing song of Ivy Tripp, and it’s a perfect choice. The beat is a slow-burn (pun?) aided by Katie’s soaring vocals. The repetitive line “the speed of light” draws itself out so far that it’s ironic and thus makes perfect sense.
4. “La Loose” – In terms of sound, this is the most shocking song on the album. The first time I heard the opening chords, I swear I thought it was a She & Him song. This song took me the longest to get accustomed to, because it is such a departure for Crutchfield, but now I love it — especially the opening line, “In the middle of my eyes / Are the blackhills of tonight.” She gets you dancing and then hits you with a line like that. Shivers.
5. “Under a Rock” – This is the second single off the album, and it brims with righteous indignation and furious relief. Crutchfield is angry and even sarcastic, crooning, “Maybe I let on that I was interested / In your brand of lonely / A book you cracked once and never read.” She also just released a really cool lo-fi video for it, which feels like a throwback to classic MTV music videos (see the standard white block font in the video’s corner).
6. “The Dirt” – Thematically, this song is a return to the self-critical tone of Waxahatchee’s earlier work — the song ends with the sullen and angry line, “I’m a basement / brimming with nothing great” — but it’s lightened up with a killer bass line and a sugary chorus.