REVIEW: Waxahatchee’s “Saint Cloud” is Self-Assured Reflection of Inner Compass

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Saint Cloud out on March 27th via Merge Records finds Waxahatchee, the recording plume de nom for Katie Crutchfield, building on past efforts while simultaneously diving deep into unflinching self-examination in the wake of new found sobriety. Big guitars, controlled noise, and borderline disorienting soundscapes are replaced with more traditionally Americana sound centered on Crutchfield’s voice and simple arrangements. If you’re a fan of Crutchfield’s past work, don’t worry, the otherworldly sonics still mix with piano, drums, and guitar – it’s simply more supportive, less dominating. Crutchfield notes in pre-release interviews that, “all of my records are turbulent and emotional, but this one feels like it has a little dose of enlightenment. It feels a little more calm and less reckless.” That calmer reflective attitude is apparent from the first notes of “Oxbow” to the record’s closing lines of the title track.

“Fire,” Saint Cloud’s lead single, is a personal pep-talk built around a very real image that Crutchfield encountered while crossing the Mississippi River into West Memphis, Arkansas. “West Memphis is on fire in the light of day,…,I take it for granted if I loved you unconditionally, I could iron out the edges of the darkest night,” she sings. “I get so angry at something you might say…I’m a broken record…if my thoughts are made of delicate sugar, I wanted nothing…,” Crutchfield sings as she confronts her anxious internal monologues over pulsing snare rim claps and mellow guitar lines on “Lilacs.”

“Hell” and “Witches” lean hard into the strip backed Americana ethos that guides the Saint Cloud with windows down backroad ready anthems and play well next to the neo-honky-tonker “Can’t Do Much.” “Arkadelphia” is similarly focused on acoustic guitar and plaintive vocals, but in the midst of this simplicity Crutchfield displays some of the most moving moments of Saint Cloud as she sings, “if I burn out like a lightbulb, they’ll say she wasn’t meant for that light.”  “I was once terrified of heights…I look down when I’m ready to die,” she continues on “Ruby Falls”; “it ain’t your fault, it’s just a shame to fall without pain.”

Waxahatchee recorded Saint Cloud in the summer of 2019 at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX, and Long Pond in Stuyvesant, NY with producer Brad Cook. Crutchfield recruited Bobby Colombo and Bill Lennox, both of the Detroit-based band Bonny Doon, to serve as her backing band with additional accompaniment from Josh Kaufman (guitar/keyboards) and Nick Kinsey (drums and percussion).

Saint Cloud finds Crutchfield beginning a new life and musical chapter as she leaves the comfortable environs and intoxicating habits of her past behind in order to embrace a more truthful self-assured reflection of her inner compass. When discussing Saint Cloud, Crutchfield shared her own summary of the record’s guided ethos, “If I can love myself unconditionally, then I can move through the world a little easier. If I can accept that I only have a partial view of the universe, and that I can’t know everything or control much of anything, then I can breathe a little easier, take better care of myself, and be closer to my own truth.” Sit back, breath deep, listen to Saint Cloud today, and find a way to “move through the world a little easier.”   https://www.waxahatchee.com

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