Waxahatchee is best at clarity and precision. There’s certainty in Katie Crutchfield’s writing voice, an omniscient wisdom that makes her assessment of the decayed landscape before her seem like just the facts, not just expression. It’s wisdom sometimes swaddled in self-loathing, yes, but it’s always convincing. She seems to always know what it is, and when she writes about it, it’s always calm and controlled: “This charming picture of hysteria in love / It could fade or wrinkle up / I don’t hold faith in much.”
Crutchfield describes her newest album, Ivy Tripp, as steadying yourself on shaky ground. Part of that is taking stock of the situation. Where there is malaise, and there often is, she addresses it head on. It’s fearless, but the brutal honesty also throws barbs at lovers, bystanders and herself. All personal songwriting has a cost, a fight somewhere in it, and in Waxahatchee songs you see the bruises.
Ivy Tripp is also a lot like her previous, critically acclaimed album Cerulean Salt. Musically, they both share the same stripped back sound led by DIY values. There’s no big evolution into arena-rocking sound, though she does play with more diverse noise this time around. “La Loose,” for instance, is the album’s most pop song with a Casiotone-esque drum machine chugging alongside Crutchfield’s toon-like, higher pitched singing. But the variety is also in how the melodies come out; “Stale by Noon” apes the tune from a barber shop quartet’s vocal harmony warm-up (think hominaaaaa-hominaaaa-hominaaa.) That variety is commendable, though not always successful. “Noon” really only feels listenable when it drops the structural restraints and lets the words flow in the refrain. I understand the value of that tension, but when there aren’t very many elements to sink your teeth into, a song like that just feels like an exercise.
All personal songwriting has a cost, a fight somewhere in it, and in Waxahatchee songs you see the bruises.
Most songs are exceptionally roomy, revealing a vast interiority, like chipping away into an underground cavern. It’s not that her words circulating on big, heart-bursting mantras and choruses. They’re not designed for liberating catharsis. Most of the big hits are fleeting, like a feather slowly drifting to settle on a line, just for a moment, before its swept away again. On “Half Moon,” it’s lines like “You’re a good girl, a daughter of liars avenged,” and that line is gone as soon as it arrives. It’s a slow, sparse, song with a real in-your-bedroom vibe, but it’s still full of momentum and movement.
The goodness in its lyrics are hard to parse out without lyric books or an intense, careful listening. The stanzas and verses tend to break up sentences into smaller parts and additional lines right in the middle. It makes whole sentences and entire images hard to perceive, and it’s a big reason why the album’s best songs are also its most cohered: “Summer of Love” and “Air” are sparkling and crystal compared to the chopped up lines in “Grey Hair.”
One surefire achievement of Ivy Tripp is that it’s a dense album that will run you through a repeatedly. Katie Crutchfield is an upper crust writer and musician with a high emotional intelligence that lets her say things that aren’t easily said or even perceived. If you look over just the words of the songs, it looks like a series of letters — unsent messages from Is to Yous, journal entries that fall neatly into rhyme. It’s an elaborate, social spider-web where the silk never breaks. It’s easy to get tangled up.