Listening to a good lyricist reminds you of just how many bad, platitude-littered albums there are out there, the same way that a good songwriter can make you wonder why everyone else is so damn lazy. It's lucky for anyone checking out Waxahatchee's Cerulean Salt, then, because mastermind and sole true member Katie Crutchfield can be both of these things in droves.
Crutchfield has been working for years in the do-it-yourself underground, notably in P.S. Eliot, an Alabama-based group she founded with identical twin Allison Crutchfeld. Even when she was making itchy, lo-fi punk that practically puked cassette-tape haze on you, her songs maintained an unbelievable catchiness and attention to craft, displaying years of experience she clearly could not have had.
If its forerunner wasn't so devoted to punk process, Waxahatchee could probably take off as a pop alternative to groups like RVIVR and GoodLuck, and at least based on the press for Cerulean Salt, she might.
Compared to her home-recorded, all-acoustic debut American Weekend, this second LP comes fleshed out, with electric guitars and drums snarling where once acoustics twanged. This threw me; Weekend was so committed to its acoustic vocals-without-overdubs aesthetic that any change would feel like whiplash.
But what's impressive is how all the embellishment doesn't really change Crutchfield's songs, the drums often keeping the beat like a metronome, the bass mostly following along with her guitar. She stays front and center.
And Crutchfield delivers. Cerulean Salt is full of narratives and finely honed details, simple-yet-catchy verses and big choruses. The songs hit hard, whether loud and distorted (“Coast to Coast”) or understated (“Peace and Quiet,” “Lively”), digging into your brain with lines like “In this dejection lives a connection.” Crutchfield uses simple observations about the rain or a lack of sleep, and builds love stories and punch lines around them.
Her dips into pop-punk and guitar-driven indie rock put others to shame. What is perhaps most impressive about the album is how far Crutchfield expands laterally - into new genres and sounds - while remaining natural.
Whether bathing in guitar fuzz or the bass-and-drums slow jam “Blue Pt. II,” she owns these songs, even if, like on the fantastic closer “You're Damaged,” they only consist of a couple chords and no discernible chorus.
It would be no understatement to say that I could not wait to get my hands on Cerulean Salt. Though American Weekend was a slow burn for me, the more I heard from her new LP, the less I could wait.
Crutchfield, as Waxahatchee, delivers on all the promise of P.S. Eliot, and then some. You will be blasting this from your car stereo when the temperatures get above about 35 degrees here in Geneseo, I promise you.