‘Out In The Storm’ is a passionate, challenging, painful, intoxicating and redemptive piece of work. Lyrically, it’s full to bursting with hard-to-hear, close-to-the-bone home truths – you would not want to be the person she wrote this about, but what if you are?Musically, it’s a top shelf 25 year old distillation of the laser guided spirits that haunt the flat above the station in town that she shares with a bunch of vaunted indie rockers.
This line, from ‘Brass Beam’, seems like a mission statement for the album, a wish, a simple ask, but what’s so simple in the moonlight in the morning never is:
“I just wanna sing my songs and sleep through the night…”
I’m going to start at the start and walk you through ‘Out In The Storm’. Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield and her band. I tried to write this whole thing using non-gender specific pronouns and failed spectacularly. I know NOTHING of the backstory here, nor do I really care to know, I’m just taking this as a piece of beautiful, meaningful, incisive art and discussing what it means to me – I don’t wanna be NOW! magazine to the lo-fi indie rock underclass, so I choose to make some assumptions and maybe I shouldn’t, so school me in the comments, I’m an open book 🙂
‘Never Been Wrong’ is the album opener, a hard-wrought evisceration of her partner and the tragic fiction he spins while smoking and laughing, carefree. Of course, she always takes the bait, when you’re stuck in that cycle, it’s exactly what you do. The band is tight, focussed and brilliantly produced, I love the vocal harmony on ‘Everyone… will pity my pain’. This excerpt sets the scene for the character who seems to have inspired this record. You’ll get to know him well, by the end.
“You walk around like
It’s your god-given right
And you love being right
You’ve never been wrong…”
Claiming that this track reminds you why you loved the Pixies isnt hyperbole, it’s genuine – the Breeders-y bassline and chiming guitar highs with clashing chorus cymbals is the perfect horizon line to backdrop Katie’s outburst. It sounds confident, balanced and angry on my pro-ject classic / Naim system and on the B&O in my car. I could want for nothing more.
‘8 Ball’ sees Katie ‘being allowed’ to drive to New York which should be an amusing turn of phrase but it’s not, it’s so barbed – the anger and shame masked by the biting sarcasm, drinking too much and causing a big scene, replaying this awful situation to the listener over more of that piercing lead, perfectly minimal drums and a simple but catchy bass guitar riff. She catches his eye, questioning the blood that keeps him alive, tragically misunderstood, she sneers, it could not possibly be me, she’s his diversion, she’s the wind blowing down his trees, she laid the groundwork up in flames, he blames her weakness. What a piece of writing. The glimpses of defiance she shows us tell the bigger story, that she’s gonna survive this abuse, this is an phoenix/ashes moment, but only just, skin of her teeth stuff.
‘Silver’ seems like songs used to be, reminds me of The Strokes and all the things that lead to them, the whole album does, with classic architecture, elegant and simple use of the basic reference points of indie rock, the first, the fifth, the seventh, the oohing, dum dum dum dum basslines, trebly barre chords ripping your eardrum membranes as her skin turns silver from his kiss on her lips, is this a good thing? Maybe? Maybe not? Maybe she can’t breathe through it anymore, but it sure is shiny.
‘Recite Remorse’ see Katie losing her mind, fists clenched, dancing with death over a simple organ, the sun on her face not working anymore, it just feels like a re-run, for a moment she was not lost, there’s a glimmer of hope in these rays, she’s waiting for permission she doesn’t need, but I think she will find it, she sounds like she’s going to – the shimmering guitar slinks in, lightning in this dark corner, and she reminisces – he was condescending, even back then. She gravitates towards those big fish conquests, it’s easy for him to walk away, but not for her. He doesn’t need permission. He sounds like an idiot. He sounds kind of familiar.
In ‘Sparks Fly’, it all kicks off. She’s reasserting herself here, heading for Berlin, he feels far away, she finally sees herself through her sister’s eyes, that moment where she’s able to step outside herself and look back in, it’s scary stuff, and she’s electrified by it – now she’s burying her head in the sand and leaving stuff behind, but at least she sees clearly and wants dignity, this sounds like the start of something healing, but then, more reminiscing, because thats how minds work, they don’t just decide to heal, they fuck around, look back, and now she’s floating on her back, watching the sky in the last moments of sunlight, feeling unrecognised, she’s finally a live wire, which is good and bad; the pain, it makes you feel alive but it sure can sting.
‘Brass Beam’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album, this is right from the heart of darkness, I could quote the whole damn thing at you but I won’t; Katie spends this song explaining her partner’s behaviour, she wants to run from it, she doesn’t want to fight, she just wants to sing her songs, and sleep through the night, is that too much to ask, you kind of feel that for whoever she’s singing about, that it is too much, that we’re long past fixing this.
“I endured your criticism
Self-loathing and all your doubt
I held you up above myself
Trying to ride it out
I got lost in your rendition of reality.”
‘Hear You’ is a stinging recollection, Katie reflects on her partners activities maybe at a gig, the line I love the most here is ‘yeah you’ll have your truth, I’ll have mine…’ as he seeks out the coolest girl in the room to lay his shade on, she grits her teeth in her own cage and watches as he does his thing with something that sounds like disgust. This is reflected in the distorted, pummelling bassline and the high pitched guitar flame that kicks off the chorus, with it’s too-many-words to fit, ranting now, but Katie rises above all this, she didn’t lie in the heat of it, she stays true, and lets him play his hand, however twisted. Difficult to do, even more difficult to write about, cliché-free.
‘A Little More’ is a beautiful refrain, some kind of coda moment, she’s live a little more, she’ll die a little more. That’s all. That’s all.
‘No Question’ is a raging piece of incisive indie punk rock, simple and direct and effervescent and sharp, she can’t get away, she spits lines in a way that you really wouldn’t want it to be you she is talking to, but if it’s not you then you can sit back and let your hair blow back in the open windowed onslaught. It’s a claustrophobic battle, she realises she can’t get away.
If it looks like a trap and walks like a trap and quacks like a trap…?
We see the object of this song mimicking a martyr, sleeping around with most of her friends, really? I hope this line is just for the ‘it never ends…’ rhyme but it kind of rings true. She’s suffocating and embarrassed at all the red faces, but hold on a moment. She’s starting to slow down and feel set free, another ray of light in the darkness of this cage.
Katie never complains, never whines. This isn’t a wallowing record. It’s a realisation that something is not what it should be. She knew all along it wasn’t right, but it can be so hard to recognise, or vocalise, or articulate that truth, to say it out loud, which is what this is. Defiance. Standing tall despite the weight of the shade of another on your shoulders.
‘Fade’ is a fascinating finale – when you think of the word, you assume a thing fading away, and the song finishes with Katie doing exactly that, but I think this is a new dawn type of fade instead, comes with it’s own heartbreak, he wrings her out, she tells the truth in the face of it, and despite all the odds, she feels amazing today – he interrupts her and yells in her face, but he does manage to hear her say that she’s walking away. She spent three years imagining what she could be, and in this simple, maudlin acoustic strum, we understand that she fell in love through childish eyes, now she’s kissing him goodbye. Fading away, yes, but this is the voice of a person moving on, not defeated, she just needs to stay out of the way.
Katie Crutchfield, like every other living human being on the planet, deserves happiness, and after listening to ‘Out In The Storm’, I know she’s gonna find it.
You can pick up a copy of the double marbled vinyl deluxe edition from Rough Trade like I did or maybe you could get it straight from the source which is Merge Records. Katie is also on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram so you can be part of this story there, if that’s how you like to do things.