Waxahatchee Out in the Storm

[Merge; 2017]

Styles: punk, pop
Others: Angel Olsen, Circuit des Yeux, Swearin’

I was in the bar reading periodicals while waiting for a slow friend, suspecting that The New Yorker might just be a rag in which rich people sublimate each other’s money on the astral plane. But it’s how I found out about her. All the news was routine, tales of the big men and the little guys, but one right turn led me to something else entirely, a feature about a siren-saint named Katie Crutchfield. From that magazine page, pancake flat, her words emerged like a body from an alpine lake: crisp, revitalized, treacherously truthful.

I sussed out and turned up her then-current Cerulean Salt, its title announcing all the good in it: those soft starting letters sounding alike but looking so not, each vowel taking turns with all the others like a backbeat. “Lively,” her best song, not only describes veracity (“You lie/ When the truth is as vast as the dark, gray sky”), but also enacts it (“You’d die/ Before you’d look me in the eye,” she sings, peering at us). I made my way to her earlier American Weekend, lo-fi in the classic sense: sturdy, bare, fraught. Nothing but spine-strong words, elegantly idiomatic verse made by curved knuckles and painted nails, language I could hear myself with.

Out in the Storm hones that truth; it wonders about it. “You ring me up/ I tell the truth,” goes “Fade,” and “You’ll have your truth/ I’ll have mine,” goes “Hear You.” Ten songs divulge it, which don’t have sections so much as well-portioned energies: a steady wash on “Silver,” a momentous stretching out in the joints of “Never Been Wrong,” a thrilling slowing down at the long end of “No Question,” where a series of harmonic modulations spins out a repetition: “It sets you free.” And “8 Ball,” an utterly summer song, is Crutchfield’s best one yet, lovelier even than “Lively,” with her recitations skipping across the surface of a pleasant surf sound: “I’ll dream, embarrassing reverie/ I’m all detached, feeling like myself.”

The record’s adversarial feeling imprints — a wall punched out, a face yelled in — are cancelled by their wry sincerity, shy of sarcastic. Addressees receive loving second-person accusations, angled toward some you, this spiteful you who will “name my weakness” and “brand my losing streak,” this stubborn you who will “politely point out all the goodness this world lacks,” this radiant you who wants to be the rain. Against it, her I observes mingled self-knowledge and -pity in others via its own “death grip on some faint humility,” seen clearly through her sister’s eyes: “Everyone will hear me complain/ Everyone will pity my pain.”

Truth requires no triangulation; it doesn’t even need one witness. And yet, the “jagged truth left unheard,” when revealed, makes you feel, as Caroline Rayner wrote of Ivy Tripp, less washed up. “I hoped telling all this truth would be liberating,” sings Crutchfield on “No Question,” and I hope it was. While everybody is telling everyone else how to spell our fake names, she’s up at 9 AM, hands full of pencils and guitars. She claims she diligently keeps “business hours” to make her music, that she tosses away even the catchiest song if one syllable is mistaken. Reading that vast fact, the songs its settled proof, made me feel less strange, spaciously unseen, just broken open enough. If lies, they might as well be true.

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