The journey to ‘Cerulean Salt’ has been a long one. Over the past decade, Crutchfield has slogged her way around America, often with her sister Allison who now fronts US punk band Swearin’, playing innumerable shows and developing her own voice. 2012’s debut album ‘American Weekend’ was a stark collection of ultra-primitive folksy recordings that showed huge promise. ‘Cerulean Salt’ is the sound of Crutchfield broadening her sound and approach - it’s once again home recorded but this time in far clearer hi-fidelity. It’s an approach that heightens every sound, syllable and guitar strum making this a wonderfully satisfying and affecting listen.
The brighter and cleaner recording serves only to enrich Crutchfield’s songwriting. There’s a supremely evocative richness to these songs of love, hope and despair. It’s a record characterised by a nostalgic longing for the past and naïve idealism for the future. From the delicate opener ‘Hollow Bedroom’, which details a relationship where she confesses, “I knew they’d hear our breath through these walls,” it’s clear she’s a songwriter who’s incredibly honest and unafraid to give every aspect of her being to her music. It’s soul bearing and deeply affecting stuff.
The greater sonic clarity allows the nuances and vivid storytelling of her music to shine. Both ‘Dixie Cups And Jars’ and ‘Lips And Limbs’ paint wonderful images of a hidden kind of America and the ideals of its sometimes disaffected youth. If ‘Cerulean Salt’ is about anything then it’s about escapism and dreaming. On ‘Dixie Cups And Jars’ she claims, “Escape yells both our names out loud.’ Introspection and self-loathing is never far away, though as she ends the song by proclaiming about herself, “I am an arid abyss.”
At times, the songs here are impossibly sad. ‘Blue Pt II’ has a particularly dolorous melody while on ‘Waiting’ her voice is reduced to a quiet, subdued whisper. Unlike her debut though, there are striking moments of stirring passion. ‘Coast To Coast’ is a glorious punk rock rush while ‘Misery Over Dispute’ is grungy and ragged. This is album that equally brings to mind the introspection of Rilo Kiley with the sheer gawky joy of early Built To Spill.
Despite the more developed moments here, the most affecting remain the songs that cut straight to the heart of why Waxahatchee is so special. ‘Swan Dive’ is a genuinely striking song that touches on suicide while ‘You’re Damaged’ acts a sublime closer. The song itself is hushed and acoustic. Crutchfield’s voice is pure and strong. It’s oddly celebratory despite its bleak lyrical content. ‘This place is vile and I am vile too,’ she sings.
It’s always been clear that Katie Crutchfield was a talented songwriter, but ‘Cerulean Salt’ represents an outstanding example of that talent blossoming into one of US indie’s most vital and compelling voices.
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