Waxahatchee is now the kind of project to get Katie Crutchfield profiled in The New Yorker. Her songwriting chops prove better with each new release, making Ivy Tripp her most accomplished outing yet. Even if her music is clearly influenced by the best lo-fi sound/hi-fi emotionality records of the ‘90s, she’s been keying in on timelessness since the get-go, and the door has finally swung wide open.
The dirge-y organ sounds on opening track “Breathless” aren’t the most indicative of what’s to come after. Still, they provide insight into one of Crutchfield’s greatest strengths: turning melancholy grit into something inviting and hospitable. By the time one of the album’s singles, “Under a Rock,” starts, it becomes even clearer. She knows just how to be aware of darkness and pain while positioning herself as a fireplace amidst the winds.
Given how pretty her voice is, it’d be easy to describe Crutchfield as a delicate or fragile singer, but those adjectives are too cheap and off-base to apply. Her warble is packed with strength and resilience without ever needing to resort to complex vocal runs or raspy growls. She may resort to a falsetto here and there but, like everything going on instrumentally, her vocals are much more notable for her simple, inherent power. When you’ve got a whole record of songs whose bare bones are as impactful as these ones, frills of any variety are as unproductive as they are unnecessary.
Her choruses are catchy and immediately memorable, ripped from some cosmic songbook which all of us are innately aware of. Songs like “Poison” and “Air” seem like tracks you’ve already tapped your fingers on your steering wheel to before you realize it’s your first time listening to them. They’ve got a lot in common with indie rock’s past. If you knew who Carrie Brownstein was before Portlandia or bowed at the altar of Stephen Malkmus back in the day, these songs have a genetic structure you’ll latch onto immediately. But Crutchfield is more willingly emotive in her playing, singing and writing than either.
Even though she’s a master of guitar tone, you’ve got to give her credit for laying down quite a few key-centric tracks on Ivy Tripp. The standout in this grouping is “La Loose,” which is more in step with Merritt than it is Malkmus. Its lilting synth lines and electronic pattering beat are a great gateway to certain feelings of yearning you only hit on with one or two songs out of a hundred. It’s the sort of track that’ll make you want to be a better human being before you’ve even paid that much attention to the lyrics.
Ivy Tripp sounds like a beach you’ve gone to in the interest of contemplating. All the surfers and tourists have gone home and you’re watching the sun fall past the horizon, wind and waves whipping around, and the only reason you’re there is to realize the world is a lot bigger and scarier than you want to say in polite company. Then you turn around and realize there’s a bonfire roaring already, waiting for you to make it your own.