Katie Crutchfield, the woman behind Waxahatchee, would seem to illumine the paradox stated by Michael Azerrad in his seminal Our Band Could Be Your Life; namely, punk is many things to many people, but only one specific things to an individual. Crutchfield’s history, a buzzy talking point picked up by both Pitchfork and The New York Times, lists a youth rife with cleverly named punk bands alongside her twin sister Allison. Yet now that both have moved on to separate projects (Katie to Waxahatchee, Allison to the fuzzy pop-punk all-stars in training Swearin’), Katie has somewhat unwillingly taken up a mantle of graduated punk. Her first album, American Weekend, was lo-fi, folk-driven and built around broken relationships, an anti-punk statement as much as Crutchfield didn’t mean for it to be.
Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield’s second record in as many years under the Waxahatchee moniker, draws a clearer line from her former oeuvre, thus might be attributed as her return to the fold. Yet such descriptors would miss the point of the powerful bloodletting Cerulean Salt doles out; Crutchfield may sonically beef up her surroundings, but her heart is still stapled solidly to her sleeve.
“In our darkened bedroom, I can’t breathe behind this curtain that we keep” goes a line from the palm-muted “Blue pt. 2.” It’s a throwaway line, forgotten the moment Crutchfield drops her devastating bar at the song’s close. But Cerulean Salt trades heavily on such under the covers intimacy, eschewing archaic points of reference for dropped in stolen moments from Crutchfield’s past lives. Or as she puts it on “Lively,” “I had a dream last night / we had hit separate bottoms / you yelled right in my face / and I poisoned myself, numb it.”
But as potentially poisonous as this emotional intimacy may indicate, Crutchfield makes the majority of Cerulean Salt work the opposite way for her. Her spate of performances at South By Southwest this year give away that Crutchfield still has punky tendencies – most of the American Weekend tracks she played were pumped full of bass and drums that heretofore had not been heard. Those performances were among the festivals highlights, with many of the rooms Crutchfield played in barely able to hold the people coming to watch her excise demons. Cerulean Salt operates similar to these SXSW showcases, with Crutchfield able to just barely mask the raw emotiveness with punchier sonics.
Yet these sonics do little to detract from the overall singular aesthetic of Waxahatchee. Cerulean Salt doesn’t feel like the work of a band, even on the noodling buzz of “Coast to Coast.” Instead Crutchfield manages to keep the emotional intimacy close enough that it never feels like anything other than she and the listener, swapping harrowing stories.
Cerulean Blue’s thirteen tracks pass quickly at manic sequence – one minute Crutchfield is cooing softly on the American Weekend-esque “Tangled Envisioning,” the next she is wailing above dirge-ridden “Misery Over Dispute.” While that might seem at points like muscle flexing, the lyrical subjects almost all perfectly fit their accompanied guitar tone.
Katie Crutchfield would scoff at being called a “punk” for a legitimate reason – she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into something which she doesn’t necessarily belong. Whatever her past affiliations with the Alabama punk scene, Cerulean Salt largely seeks to pave its own road apart from any pedigree the Crutchfield sisters have worked to achieve in order to establish its own readily apparent greatness. Which, of course, is exactly what punk is all about.
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt tracklist:
- “Hollow Bedroom”
- “Dixie Cup and Jars”
- “Lips and Limbs”
- “Blue, Pt. II”
- “Brother Bryan”
- “Coast to Coast”
- “Tangled Envisioning”
- “Misery Over Dispute”
- “Swan Dive”
- “Peace and Quiet”
- “You’re Damaged”