Waxahatchee ‘Saint Cloud’ – Review

12 Apr

Waxahatchee (formally self-recorded solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield, now a fleshed out band) have quietly been putting out some of the most moving indie rock records of the past decade. Fifth album, ‘Saint Cloud’, continues this trend whilst elevating the group’s ambition. In contrast to ‘American Weekend’s bruised, lo-fi ballads and ‘Out in the Storm’s scruffy Alt-rock vibes, ‘Saint Cloud’ is surprisingly bright. Here Waxahatchee have captured a sound akin to soft sunlight illuminating an old, country road.  The pretty melodies and colourful chord changes resonate sweetly but because of the material’s inherent melancholy, the exterior sunniness renders the album bitter sweet.

A lot of the song’s themes were solidified on journeys between Crutchfield’s childhood home of Birmingham, Alabama and Kansas City, where she currently resides. Recently sober, and in a settled relationship, Crutchfield felt well placed to diagnose and dissect years of self-neglect, substance abuse and romantic trauma. There is clearly a heaviness to these themes – one song, ‘Ruby Falls’, is about a friend who died from a heroin overdose – but the bad weather never overwhelms the optimism inherent in the performances.

The golden haze that reverberates from these songs forms a barrier between Waxahatchee’s gloomier records and this one. Inspired by the country and Alt-country fixtures of her youth, Crutchfield finds a way to derive beauty from the hardness of reality. Tears falling become ‘rain’, bones become ‘delicate sugar’, silence is spun in to ‘gold’. In the midst of despair, Crutchfield and her band find the sweetness, and encourage braveness. ‘You might mourn all that you wasted, that’s just part of the haul / tangling up all of your good fortune, bearing the heart of the fall / you won’t break it after all.’

But that valuable quality doesn’t necessarily get at what makes ‘Saint Cloud’ so good. I could draw a parallel between this and Arctic Monkeys 2011 album ‘Suck It and See’ – two unexpectedly bright and articulate records released after particularly dark an introverted periods. Like ‘Suck It and See’, ‘Saint Cloud’ is a relatively straightforward album. You’ll find the choruses exactly where you expect. The chords are simple enough. The arrangements are light and undecorative. ‘Saint Cloud’ isn’t particularly profound and it’s certainly not innovative but in its clarity Waxahatchee have created an incredibly accomplished record. Take highlight  ‘Can’t Do Much’ (maybe my favourite track of 2020 so far). Obstinately a tender, upbeat love song but one full of odd imagery (‘my eyes roll around like dice on the felt’), uneasiness (‘in my loneliness I’m locked in a room’) and humour (I love that much anyhow – can’t do much about it now’). Both the song, and the album, are about accepting the good alongside the bad and coming to peace, and finding the joy, within that. 

8/10

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