“I left like I got my way / But truly I left with nothing at all.” That line from “Hollow Bedroom” opens Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt. Katie Crutchfield is back to follow 2012’s (I look for a new adjective every time I type this title) amazing, unbelievable, revelatory American Weekend, and her songwriting still displays the same awareness that we bring most of our problems down on ourselves. This time, though, Waxahatchee is mostly a full band with Crutchfield getting help from Keith Spencer, Kyle Gilbride, and her twin sister Allison (all of Swearin’). Gilbride and Spencer also produced.
Over at NPR, where Cerulean Salt is currently streaming in full, the write-up makes several references to how Crutchfield applies her songwriting skills, honed over a decade’s worth of bands, to themes that pertain mostly to the young: “loneliness, fickle feelings, anxiety, self-doubt.” I may just be immature (I am), but I contend — as I have in the past — that everyone feels these feelings for their whole lives. As adults, we all just get better at dealing with them. And by “better,” I mean we push them all down, out of sight so that we don’t bother people. Crutchfield puts it all out there for us; and, whether or not we convince ourselves that the feelings she’s dredging up are all feelings from our youth, her words are almost all instantly relatable.
There is a slight change in focus on Cerulean Salt. While American Weekend spent a good deal of time on the regrets associated with missed opportunities and chances not taken in relationships, several songs on Cerulean Salt deal with the other side of the coin: the fears that can come with taking the leap. Contrast “I can’t give you what you want” from American Weekend’s “Grass Stain” with “Blue Pt. II”’s “I’ll give you everything you wanted / If I can.” “Misery Over Dispute” deals with the consequences of making that painful choice in an effort to keep the peace. Crutchfield sings of “dreams of loveless marriage and regret” over a jangly 1950’s chord progression on “Swan Dive.”
The full-band setup takes Cerulean Salt’s sound out of the lo-fi bedroom project of American Weekend. “Coast to Coast,” “Peace and Quiet,” and “Misery Over Dispute” all feature a bigger, electric guitar driven, 1990’s rock sound. Crutchfield’s voice, which conveys her sense of depression and regret on the quieter tracks, comes across as effectively angry and sometimes even sarcastic on the louder cuts. It all works.
Cerulean Salt is a more than worthy follow-up to one of the best albums of 2012. Crutchfield’s songwriting, which she’s worked on since her early teens, continues to mature as does Waxahatchee’s sound. “[Y]our past, but hopefully not your present, will dictate which lines speak to you,” writes Otis Hart at NPR. I think, though, that when you listen to Waxahatchee, something that’s been inside you from the start begins to stir and reminds you of the person you’ve always been.
Cerulean Salt comes out next week on New Brunswick, NJ’s Don Giovanni Records.