Album Review: Waxahatchee – “Saint Cloud”
Posted: by The Editor
Since 2012’s American Weekend, Katie Crutchfield has been releasing albums as Waxahatchee, each better than the last, and each reengineering the project into the dynamic alt-rock act it is today. After releasing the superb Out in the Storm in the summer of 2017, it appeared that Crutchfield was reaching a new peak in her career. Named one of the best albums of that year by several music publications, the record was raw, and the most straight-forward rock album in Crutchfield’s discography.
Now with her fifth record, Saint Cloud, Crutchfield has turned on a heel, finding inspiration in the music that shaped her by leaning into her Alabama roots. This is her first record since deciding to get sober, and we see a new side of Crutchfield, clear-eyed and impassioned.
The record’s lead single “Fire” is relaxed, but it nevertheless saunters along while Crutchfield sings a song of self-love and empowerment to herself as she battles the struggles inherent in getting sober. “Tomorrow could feel like 100 years later / I’m wiser and slow and attuned.” It feels like an exhale of sweet relief.
In an incredible one-two punch, it is followed by “Lilacs”, one of the best songs in Waxahatchee’s catalog. The track glides through the verses, where we are treated to Crutchfield’s voice front-and-center, with personality gleaming off it. For a song that feels this integral to the record as a whole, it’s surprising to learn it was the last written for it. The track’s chorus cries out, fighting against the strawman she has built up to serve as her lover’s failings. “If I’m a broken record / write it in the dust, babe.”
In our streaming age, it’s an unfortunate yet frustrating reality for LPs to be front-loaded, and place the best tracks at the beginning. One of the charms of Saint Cloud is that it soars from beginning to end, no filler needed. The record’s mid-section—while containing titles such as “War” and “Hell”—is delightfully pleasant, with sunny, lilting tracks each more infectious than the last. “Hell,” in particular, feels tailor-made to lightly bob your head to at an outdoor summer concert. It is the most reminiscent of Out in the Storm if only for the shredding guitar that cushions it. It is also home to one of the record’s most memorable and vivid lyrics: “I hover above like a deity / but you don’t worship me.”
On the slow-burning “Arkadelphia,” named after a road in her hometown, Crutchfield paints a picture of her upbringing and the sights she knows best. “Pass fireworks at the old trailer park / and folding chairs, American flags / Selling tomatoes at 5 bucks a bag.” Her embrace of her Southern accent is particularly useful here, adding a seperate layer of honesty to an already touching work of art.
This is followed with more songs that bring memories to the forefront, “Ruby Falls” and “Saint Cloud”. The former alludes to her time in New York, while also referencing Waxahatchee Creek, the project’s namesake for the first time since “Rose, 1956” from her debut. The latter is a muted confessional, named for her father’s hometown. It ends the album on a lacy, elegant note.
These last three tracks are especially affecting for longtime listeners, as they press the raw lo-fi indie folk sensibilities of “American Weekend” down into pure diamond. They are the perfect encapsulation of Waxahatchee, the solo project put out on tapes that emoted through fuzzy recording, and Waxahatchee, the professionally-produced and acclaimed rock act. Saint Cloud is a triumph, and a victory lap for an artist already at the height of her craft.
Disappointing / Average / Good /Great / Phenomenal
Eric Bennett // @seething_coast
The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.