Following a breakup two years ago, Katie Crutchfield found herself snowed in at her parents’ house in Alabama, where she recorded a collection of deeply personal, lo-fi acoustic guitar tracks. The resulting album American Weekend, her first under the name Waxahatchee, felt like a whispered sacred document of youthful discontent and loneliness, the kind you could curl up and live inside for days. On the follow-up, Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield has plugged in the amplifiers and slightly glossed up the production. That might initially disappoint American Weekend fans, but the decision not to attempt to reproduce the holy rawness of her debut ultimately serves Crutchfield well. Her subtle gut-punches translate just as powerfully once the volume’s been dialed up.
Crutchfield is an extraordinarily efficient songwriter, using each brief track to paint a very specific but familiar portrait of 20-something American youth. “I said to you on the night that we met, ‘I am not well,’” she sings right out of the gate over a spare bassline and a kick drum on “Brother Bryan.” Some tracks are jaunty pop-punk odes, like the 90-second “Coast to Coast”; some are delicately folk-fed, underscoring Crutchfield’s slight Alabaman twang. Others are uniquely entrancing, like “Misery Over Dispute,” a track that sways like a slow dance and shreds like a basement punk show at the same time. But no matter how she packages her words and stories, Crutchfield finds a way to poke at the world’s collective demons. “We will find a way to be lonely any chance we can, and I’ll keep having dreams about loveless marriage and regret,” she sings on “Swan Dive”. She might using “we” to talk about herself and her friends throughout Cerulean Salt, but she invites everyone in to reflect.