by Craig Howieson
Waxahatchee’s music has always conjured a wistful, romanticised version of America. Be it the cluttered basements of Katie Crutchfiled’s lo-fi beginnings, or the open yards and sprawling roads ventured on the bleached indie of Ivy Trip – each of her songs contains within it a unique story. Crutchfield’s America is the one captured in the faded photographs on the cover of her debut American Weekend; something pure and full of promise that those not from those shores longed for. It’s a veneer one could only wish reflected the truth, and yet makes Crutchfield’s music all the sweeter for it.
Saint Cloud doubles down on the immersion in America. Amidst the glowing embers of Arkadelphia as Crutchfield sings, ‘I drive out far / pass fireworks at the old trailer park / and folding chairs, American flags / selling tomatoes for five bucks a bag,’ you can’t help but revel in her ability to paint a scene.
In a move away from the punkier leanings of her previous two releases, Saint Cloud takes a step back to showcase the strength of her songwriting, complete with some of the lushest instrumentation of her career. Saint Cloud channels a heartfelt Americana with Bonny Doon serving as her backing band and Josh Kauffman (one third of the band behind Bonny Light Horseman – the year’s finest folk record so far) contributing guitar and keyboards. There are parallels with Dylan and The Band too – a shared electricity in storytelling as surf guitars swell with West Coast warmth and lap steel radiates off southern highways.
While Crutchfield’s previous work has often dealt with life’s heartbreaks, isolation and frustration, Saint Cloud feels like a gentler environment. Written on the back of Crutchfield’s newfound sobriety as detailed on War (‘I’m in a war with myself / It’s got nothing to do with you…’), it is a more resolute, conciliatory record. On Lilacs, Crutchfield offers the perfect riposte to being on the losing side, ‘If I’m a broken record, write it in the dust, babe / I’ll fill myself back up like I used to do,’ while still recognising the need for someone to lean on ‘I won’t end up anywhere good without you / I need your love too’.
Positive vibes permeate the record from start to finish and Crutchfield’s unique voice leaves a trail of hope in its wake on the gorgeous closer St. Cloud – ‘when I go / look back at me, embers aglow.’ Five albums in, this is possibly her strongest record to date. Crutchfield’s view of America retains a nostalgic hopefulness in the face of bleak realism. The promised land she inhabits in song is one we all still hope to take a road trip across.