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On ‘Ivy Tripp,’ Katie Crutchfield refuses to slow down

| Monday, April 13, 2015

On 'Ivy Tripp,' Katie Crutchfield refuses to slow downKeri O'Mara | The Observer

Katie Crutchfield has been playing music professionally since she was a teenager, and her songwriting reflects the decade she’s spent refining her craft.

The 26-year-old musician’s solo project, Waxahatchee, which takes its name from a creek near her parents’ house in Alabama, grounds quarter-life crises in searingly specific images. Crutchfield displayed this introspective, emotionally honest songwriting on her debut, “American Weekend,” a collection of lo-fi acoustic songs recorded during a snowed-in week at her parents’ home, and “Cerulean Salt,” a more polished album that has a sound harkening back to 90s alt rock.

“Ivy Tripp,” Crutchfield’s third album as Waxahatchee and first for major indie label Merge, is her most mature work to date: She explores a more expansive sound without abandoning her self-reflective streak. Signing with Merge — the label home to Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon and Arcade Fire, among countless other indie rock heavyweights — will hopefully, and deservedly, allow Crutchfield’s music to resonate with an even wider audience.

For the recording of “Ivy Tripp,” Crutchfield rented a house on Long Island for a year and a half. She worked there with co-producers Kyle Gilbride and Keith Spencer of the Philadelphia band Swearin’ (Crutchfield’s twin sister, Allison, is the group’s frontwoman). The result is a more muscular sound than her previous two albums, immediately noticeable from the blast of static that accompanies opener “Breathless.” Crutchfield’s evolution is there, too, on the breezy “La Loose,” a poppy track backed by synth pads and a drum machine. Closing track “Bonfire” returns to a more noisy sound, her harmonies floating over the buzz of guitar feedback.

Despite the more ambitious sonic territory Crutchfield explores, “Ivy Tripp” doesn’t sacrifice the intelligent songwriting that made her earlier work so compelling. Throughout the album, she reflects on unstable relationships and the aimlessness of one’s 20s, often saving the harshest criticism for herself. “I left you out like a carton milk,” she sings on the chorus of “Air,” accepting blame for a failed relationship and creating one of the year’s most indelible images. Yet, by the song’s end, she’s more forgiving of herself, arriving at the realization they both failed to recognize what the other needed: “You were patiently giving me everything that I will never need.”

That same tension is present on “<,” which descends into a bridge marked by defiantly offbeat drums. “You’re less than me, and I am nothing,” she repeats in what is perhaps the album’s most devastating moment. It’s at once a self-deprecating remark and a vicious jab, characteristic of Crutchfield’s ability to approach an event from both perspectives.

“I think a running theme [on “Ivy Tripp”] is steadying yourself on shaky ground and reminding yourself that you have control in situations that seem overwhelming,” Crutchfield said in the album’s press release. “Or just being cognizant in moments of deep confusion or sadness and learning to really feel emotions and to grow from that.”

Throughout “Ivy Tripp,” Crutchfield grapples again and again with making sense of adulthood. On “Grey Hair,” she maybe finds an answer. Despite the shaky ground of uncertainty and doubt, the one place that she can steady herself is music — which she has proven through her songwriting time and time again. “Maybe, you’ll learn to live on stage … I get short of breath because I can’t slow down,” she sings. “Ivy Tripp” makes abundantly clear that Crutchfield won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

“Ivy Tripp”

Waxahatchee

Label: Merge Records

4/5 Shamrocks

If you like: Swearin’, Girlpool, Angel Olsen

Tracks: “Air,” “<,” “Grey Hair”

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About Matthew Munhall

Matthew earned his BA from Notre Dame in 2016, and he is currently pursuing an MA in English and American Literature. He thinks everyone should listen to Charly Bliss.

Contact Matthew