By: Amanda McMillan
Katie Crutchfield, better known as Waxahtachee (named after the creek in her home state of Alabama), is back with her fifth studio album, Saint Cloud. She has proven to be a force to reckon with in the alt-rock genre, managing to consistently find her way onto playlists, countdown lists, and catching the attention of tastemakers in the digital music critique sphere.
Crutchfield has always been a thoughtful lyricist, and vocals that have always had a charming twang to them. In speaking with Apple Music about the making of this newest release, she mentions that she had always tried to hide or shy away from her southern roots as if it were something she wasn’t eager to celebrate about herself and her influences. But on Saint Cloud, she gives herself permission to out her inner country girl; it’s a love letter to her southern upbringing.
There is a certain level of philosophizing happening on this album, a consideration of life and growing up, what it all means. Lyrically, it draws attention to experiences - to joy, to bliss, to love, but also pain, confusion, and grief. If creating a synergy between the ups and downs of life isn’t country well then I don’t know what is.
Something I’ve come to expect from a Waxatachee album is that there will always be one song that just stays in your head, creating that “earworm” effect. It becomes the song that I associate with the album. For me, on American Life it was “Be Good,” on Ivy Tripp it was “Summer of Love,” and now on Saint Cloud it’s “Fire.” This song has all the makings of a Waxahatchee track, but a slickness in the production and little details that make it feel fresh and new. Every time I hear it, I want to sing along.
On “The Eye”, Crutchfield goes full country melody, twangy and sweet. There’s a great little guitar lick, and as we approach the two minute mark there is this delightfully joyful harmony when Crutchfield sings “lit up behind the sunbeam” that made me smile the first time I heard it. Early on, it’s clear this is an album that sought out nuance and the sonic sweetness an artist can find there.
But with the lovely, light bits there also comes denser, heavier moments as well. “Ruby Falls” is a tribute to Crutchfield’s late friend who died of an overdose. She sings about choices, and sadness, and grief. It’s honest and poetic, an ode to someone she clearly cared about deeply. The album ends with the melodic and slightly haunting “St. Cloud,” which is the rawest song on the album from a production perspective. It almost sounds like a demo track, but that’s what makes it so special. The album overall is very well produced and mixed, but “St. Cloud” is steeped in emotion, which you can hear in Crutchfield’s voice, as well as the tempo and style of the instrumentation. It’s a really nice way to send off the album.
Saint Cloud seems to mark the beginning of something new for Waxahatchee, as Crutchfield put it “a return to form.” It’s sweet, honest, and grown-up. She’s clearly dug deep here, beyond the woes of everyday life, beyond the surface level highs and lows of love and loss. She’s freed the pieces of herself that perhaps she had been drowning out, or tucking away, and found a way to meet herself in all the places we tend to overlook. As a listener and a fan, this feels like the musical equivalent of being invited into her home. It may not be a groundbreaking, genre shaking album, but it certainly has the makings of something special.