REVIEW: Waxahatchee channels heartbreak’s transformative powers to create ‘Out In The Storm’

Katie Crutchfield has been penning songs about heartbreak since she was a teenager fronting Birmingham, Ala. punk outfit p.s. eliot. Her first release as Waxahatchee, 2011’s “American Weekend” features songs bruised and fragile, her voice trembling while recounting troublesome love and the 20-something melancholy she’s trying her damnedest to shake.

Crutchfield, now 29, can still rip your heart to shreds with lyrics unflinchingly honest and raw. In the years since her debut, though, she’s developed a confidence palpable in her voice and in the way she commands a live crowd.

Waxahatchee’s fourth official release “Out In The Storm,” drops July 14 on Merge Records and oozes with the weary-hearted wisdom that has defined Crutchfield’s songbook. On the surface her newest release is a break-up record, but in reality it’s the portrait of a woman reawakened.

Produced by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr./Sonic Youth/Kurt Vile)  Crutchfield’s latest collection of 10 songs is her most personal yet, quite the distinction for a songstress whose brand of songwriting is notorious for unrelenting intimacy and honesty. Thematically, “Out In The Storm” recalls Waxahatchee’s debut “American Weekend”. The stark record was recorded at Crutchfield’s parents’ lake house during a freak snow storm. The haunting lofi release recounted fresh heartbreak, lust and unrequited love with urgency and the alluring voice of a wise, weary vagabond. She recalled songwriters like Elliott Smith and Lucinda Williams, even “Living With Ghosts” era Patty Griffin.

Crutchfield followed up her debut with tragic coming of age breakthrough, 2013’s “Cerulean Salt”. 2015 brought along her third album “Ivy Tripp”. The critically adored record saw her experiment with new music styles (the synths, abrasive on “Breathless” and deceptively sweet on “La Loose” attest to that change).

“Out In The Storm” is littered with catchy hooks and guitar riffs, as Crutchfield makes sense of a doomed relationship with songs drenched in rage and remorse.

Crutchfield parted ways with longtime collaborator and boyfriend Keith Spencer between her most recent releases. Her new batch of songs, in part, was the Birmingham, Ala.’s native way of processing the emotions in the aftermath of their separation.

Where some break-up albums may wallow in what could’ve been, Crutchfield uses pain as a vehicle for self-empowerment. The record is an exercise in self-love and seeking out the joy a relationship robbed from her.

On “Sparks Fly,” Crutchfield is reclaiming happiness she’s long been depraved of. The song is a testament to losing sight of ourselves in the midst of loving another. On a trip abroad, her sister empowers her to see herself as a ray of light. That person she lost track off in this particularly toxic mess of a relationship.

“I see myself through my sister’s eyes / I’m raw like wire, electrified,” she sings.

“Never Been Wrong,” is the record’s opener, a cathartic kiss-off where Crutchfield gives a scathing play-by-play of a long-term relationship’s ugly demise.

“I spend all my time learning how to defeat you at your own game it’s embarrassing,” Cruthchfield sings in the song’s opening line.

It’s the penultimate track on a record that balances vulnerability and seething anger. “Am I happy or manic,” Crutchfield, self-aware enough to know the chaos rattles her own sanity. The song captures feelings of fiery rage that surface while in a quarrel with a partner. The intense desire to be in the right. To utter the last words.

“You’ll play defense evading the nonsense / Does it make you feel good to watch me stumbling in the dark?,” sings coyly to her old flame.

Crutchfield depicts those vile moments in the aftermath of a relationship, when love has been replaced by volatility, with painful accuracy.

On country-tinged “8-Ball” Crutchfield plays the part of scorned ex-girlfriend.

“I’ll drink too much, I’ll cause a big scene,” Crutchfield sings with a feisty southern twang, smarting from the fact she had to drive her “own damn car to Brooklyn, New York, USA.”

The songs lyrics are pointed at her ex, who eagerly awaits a breakdown in the wake of the fresh break-up. Crutchfield has other ideas:

I’ll be nobody, I’ll be the wind blowing through the leaves
And I’ll fall, I will not be ashamed at all
You’ll see a failure, you want to plan my losing streak

“Silver,” is easily the catchiest track on the entire album. Crutchfield’s undeniable southern swagger on display in every frame of the music video–a trippy visual that finds her galavanting through urban side streets, crooning from the depths of a dimly lit basement.

“I’ll portray the old shag carpet / You can walk all over me,” she sings.

“Out In The Storm” is being streamed on NPR here:

Order the record (out July 14), the fourth from indie songstress Waxahatchee here:



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