Favorite Tracks: “Fire,” “Lilacs,” “Hell”
On the day Waxahatchee’s SAINT CLOUD was released, I popped on my AirPods and took a walk ~outside~. It was a particularly pleasant Spring day and the walk a welcome change from sitting on my feet until they go numb for eight hours a day in the makeshift “office” my living room has become. Somewhere around “Lilac,” I was hit with a moment of clarity, a rare and ever-fleeting realization these days. It was then, as I paused to breathe in the Spring air (allergies be damned) and remind myself I probably shouldn’t have a sit on a nearby park bench, that I (to no one) proclaimed SAINT CLOUD to be a perfect album for the age of quarantine.
Written in the two-year period following her semi-recent sobriety, Katie Crutchfield’s latest work under her Waxahatchee moniker is a refreshing collection of folk songs that find the artist finally sonically embracing her Alabama roots. While Crutchfield’s early work leans into punk and grunge influences in a seeming rebellion against the country-music expectations for a young, white singer-songwriter growing up in the Deep South, on SAINT CLOUD, she builds on the more polished sound of 2017’s OUT IN THE STORM while also venturing into new territory—both in life and in her music.
The use of substances, whether it be drugs or alcohol, has always been a common theme in Waxahatchee’s music. In 2012’s “Grass Stain,” Crutchfield cried, “I don’t care, I’ll embrace all my vices / And we’ll blackout, or at least slow everything down.” Looking back, it’s easy to feel the cloud hanging over Crutchfield as she struggled with her use of substances; in sobriety, Waxahatchee’s music manages to achieve a moment of sonic clarity. Every note, lyric, and melody is balanced and refined, creating an atmosphere that I’ve only ever experienced on a perfect Spring day. There is a palpable joy felt throughout SAINT CLOUD, even on songs like “War,” in which Crutchfield catalogs her past vices and self-destructive habits. Unburdened by her past, Crutchfield is operating at an artistic peak. “If I’m a broken record, write in the dust, babe,” she sings on the beautiful “Lilacs,” which follows “Fire” at the top of the album to create a one-two punch exploring self-love and self-reflection.
“In my loneliness, I’m locked in a room” she sings on “Can’t Do Much.” Somehow, Crutchfield made an album that perfectly encapsulates the wave of emotions that come with being isolated from the world for months on end. Her longing and remembering of places from her past throughout SAINT CLOUD hit a little different in the midst of a global pandemic. On album closer “St. Cloud,” she reminisces on her time in New York City, pondering, “Where do you go when your mind starts to lose its perfected shape?” before sighing, “I guess the dead just go on living.” SAINT CLOUD exists on a 3 AM ride on the M train, in the existential thoughts that slip through the cracks during rush hour traffic in LA, and as you lie awake at night, restless from the terrorizing realization that, out of all the alternate timelines, you exist in this one.
In a time that has seen my grasp on reality all but vanish, I have found myself continuing to return to Waxahtchee’s masterpiece. It is an album for longing and also for hope. A record that, like all of us, yearns to be outside, frolicking carefree amongst the flowers. When quarantine first began, I couldn’t wait to eat in a restaurant again. But I know now, more than ever, all I want is to dissociate in a public space with the lyrics of Waxahatchee burning in my ear. “That’s what I wanted…”