Albums that surface in the wake of sobriety frequently hold striking results - the fierce creativity of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and DIIV’s recent clear-headed, focused ‘Deceiver’ spring to mind.The same whiff of reinvention and wide-eyed awakening lingers in the songs of Waxahatchee’s ‘Saint Cloud’.
On her fifth album, Katie Crutchfield exchanges the rugged tone of her last few LPs for a softer palate that employs piano, the soft strum of an acoustic guitar and dusty drums. This exercise of restraint gives her songwriting a little more room to breathe which, in turn, illuminates her gravitational vocal tone and transcendent lyrical turns. Just listen to the stark, heartbreaking line in ‘Fire’ - “If I could love you unconditionally I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky” she sings as a guitar groove lightly shimmers in the background.
The mystic lyrics of ‘Oxbow’ unfurl in a spiralling melody set to pounding piano and twinkling sonics while ‘Lilacs’ glows gorgeously in a sun-kissed instrumental comprised of stirring strings, mellotron and a clicking rimshot. ‘Witches’ is the closest Katie wanders to her alt-rock past as she wisely explains, “the myth without struggle, babe / it can’t fill your heart”.
The lyrical diamonds shine brighter with multiple listens but it’s the two-punch finale of ‘Ruby Falls’ and the closing title track that holds the LP’s most affecting statements particularly as she sings “if the dead just go on living, then there’s nothing left to fear”.
‘Saint Cloud’ is the rousing of a regenerated spirit that chronicles not just the journey but the revelations of love, life and death that comes with it. A very special album indeed.