When’s the last time your heard a guitar record that sat you right down next to its maker in a tiny room, staring them straight in the eye? For the better part of the past four or five years, bands have been content sending us out on to wide-open plains or to the top of mountains where the reverb goes on and on forever and a whisper can sound like a shout. No doubt it’s pretty, but honest? It can’t be. It’s fantasy. This is what sets Brooklyner Katie Crutchfield and her indie folk project Waxahatchee apart from the rest. The quality of her vocal performance actually relies on the quality of her voice, rather than carefully produced wafting emanations of glassy fullness that erupt every time so many other lo-fi folkster singer-songwriters so much as hum. Her guitar is just a guitar, a little bit out of tune every now and then, with a wooden body that thumps when it’s accidentally tapped. What she’s doing isn’t new, but somehow it seems revolutionary. Her songs are simple things, but if you’re focused on structure you’re missing the point. It’s the words and the stories, mostly about herself, or at least a character she’s invented with an acute understanding of pain. The songs are themselves are frames, wooden and unadorned, enabling and, in their own way, enhancing the beauty of their contents.
Crutchfield’s second full-length album, Cerulean Salt, was just released on Don Giovanni Records. Developmentally, she’s stepped away from the brittle, tape-quality production of American Weekend and towards a more nuanced atmosphere of clear but unenhanced sound. It’s austere as it is humble. She seems to have no grand intentions besides wanting to get her thoughts onto record. The conflictingly spiteful “Lively” is a perfect example, a truly heartwrenching mini-story about facing someone who hurt you as they lay sick or dying in a hospital bed. I’m glad she found her medium in songwriting, where the simple but powerful message she has to deliver found it’s way to me. Check the record out, it’s great.