Waxahatchee is the project of singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield. She makes angst-riddled indie punk that has been compared to Liz Phair millions of times. Thematically, her music often deals with her inner monologue and the music complements that style very effectively with simple guitar jangles and drum kits providing an easy foundation for her voice to cut through. Her music is the unfettered, singularly focused vetting of fears, anxieties, relationships, and small triumphs that accompanies emergence into young adulthood. Her 2013 release, Cerulean Salt was a tremendous achievement. Personal and intimate while remaining conversational and loose. It announced her presence as a leading figure in the indie scene by deftly returning to the cornerstones of the genre: guitar and voice.
With Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee returns with a deeper solemnity and more varied approach. It is an album filled with questions and the feeling of being in limbo. It is a very insular record, with “I” and “You”’s strewn about everywhere. When someone is singing about themselves and their world repeatedly, it can be cumbersome to listen to if there are not broader implications and meanings that you can apply to yourself. While Cerulean Salt soars because of that very fact, Ivy Tripp feels hyper-specific in that it is directly addressed to the same “you” for much of the record. Her melodies are still beautiful, her music is still simple but nice, but the relatability has somewhat disappeared. In its place is something too solemn and downcast. It can make the entirety of the album an onerous listen.
In regards to the album, Crutchfield says, “The title Ivy Tripp is really just a term I made up for directionless-ness, specifically of the 20-something, 30-something, 40-something of today, lacking regard for the complaisant life path of our parents and grandparents. I have thought of it like this: Cerulean Salt is a solid and Ivy Tripp is a gas.” She gets to the crux of why the album can feel laborious to finish from front to back -- it can be directionless and hard to hold onto--like trying to grasp the wind.
With that said, this is not to say there aren’t some fantastic moments on the album. When Crutchfield is able to combine her ear for a melody, with simple and pleasing instrumentation, and forceful lyrics, her music is truly excellent. “La Loose” uses a breezy digital drum kit and pondering bass line to great indie-pop heights. On “Air”, Crutchfield’s falsetto soars through monotonous low guitar notes for something truly beautiful. And on “Grey Hair”, Crutchfield lets her proverbial hair down with an easy, acoustic guitar romp that contains a beautiful piano melody. On these songs, Crutchfield loosens from her dark and somber tendencies and allows the listener to breathe somewhat.
Crutchfield is a gifted lyricist, but thematically, the album is too focused on failed relationships and coming to terms with aging -- with no space for smiles or a recognition of the triumphs of life. Again, by communicating the state of limbo, there is less for the listener to truly grasp. There are moments of great songwriting power, such as “I left you out like a carton of milk” on “Air” or “That brick house you built around your cranium / You wear it like a crown” on “Under A Rock” that remind you of Crutchfield’s abilities.
A positive of the album is that Crutchfield seeks to expand on the music and instrumentation of earlier albums. There is a much higher variation with guitar scuzz, acoustic guitars, feedback driven songs, and beautiful piano melodies all playing a part in the musical experience. She is extremely talented and continues to develop in a very encouraging manner. A thing to note in the future will be if she can offer slightly more clarity through her story while continuing to offer a greater variation musically.
Overall, Waxahatchee is a really talented artist that made a good record. She is really gifted and courageous; presenting a whole version of herself and her world without holding back. By attempting to bring to life the state of flux and indirection that young adulthood brings, there are moments on her album that echo that same sensation. Too often, she does not present her world with any semblance of a smile, and that can make a dense listen. I would still recommend a listen or three to this album, but I would say that Cerulean Salt would be a much better entry point.