Music in this post:
Waxahatchee — Cerulean Salt (2013) [youtube, spotify]
Waxahatchee — Ivy Tripp (2015) [youtube, spotify]
Waxahatchee’s music transitions from a first album of can’t-put-down lower-fi incantations to more deliberate and mature but in my opinion less gripping melodies. What stylistic changes contributed to the different listening experience?
I found Cerulean Salt gripping. I couldn’t stop listening to it in practically any context (e.g. on a flight across the ocean, walking in San Francisco, at the beach, in my friend’s car) with the notable exception of places where visible emotion is frowned upon (e.g. work). The album kept giving me fresh flavors, like some kind of long-lasting miracle gum. It has a magnetic slow burn, due perhaps to the understated yet direct and hard-hitting delivery. Katie Crutchfield’s voice is enrapturing. This isn’t over-intellectual indie rock that tries to use big words or avant-garde schemes to win listeners; if anything, some snippets of the lyrics verge on cliché (e.g. “big as the ocean”), which is the second to last semi-negative thing I’ll say about this album. The last thing, just to get it out of the way, is that basically all of the songs end awkwardly and a little abruptly on a final cycle of chords. But I didn’t actually notice that until I covered a few of them in my room as another way to internalize them.
The subtle low-end crunch provides a lot of power to these songs. Crutchfield’s voice and lightly wavy guitar hold down the highs, but the prominently audible yet out of the way crunch bass adds a richness that provides an enormous sense of space. For example, on Lively, 1:50, the crunch turns on and it’s beautiful. And speaking of that song:
I had a dream last night
We had hit separate bottoms
is exactly the kind of plain yet magnetic lyric that takes your breath away, like good poetry. It reminded me of the feeling of reading some modern European poets like Mandelstam, where simple words in strange arrangements brought complex joy. Not all of the songs on this album had that effect, but enough did.
Moving to Ivy Tripp, the tone changes drastically and the style evolves into substantially more maturity. The vocals are significantly more defined/consistent/crisp, and they sound recorded from further away due to the fewer lows (less Terry Gross, more coffee shop). Both of these take away some from the intimacy of the first album. I think it’s also fundamentally hard to match the intoxicating quality of songs about drugs, depression, and lost love (most of which Cerulean Salt is concerned with, touching on alcohol, heroin, depression, and suicide, often in connection with a nameless partner). She still touches on some of the Cerulean themes, but she manages to make them eminently listenable by covering them in a deceptive wrapper of catchiness, e.g. La Loose. Crutchfield’s voice on this album is still stunning, but she’s (probably healthily) significantly changed the style of her music to something more hopeful, upbeat, and less on the imminent brink of destruction, yet I can’t bring myself to get into it. I find it hard to listen to the entire album at once: some melodies are a little repetitive, and a lot of the minimalism doesn’t leave enough to hold onto as a listener. It’s still a solid album with a few winning tracks, but it didn’t give me the same sense of wonderment as Cerulean Salt.
I would call Cerulean Salt super hot fuego, and Ivy Tripp fuego.