Her personal project of over a decade, Katie Crutchfield has earned Waxahatchee the reputation of a fierce indie rocker who always pushes against the grain. Now, on her fifth and best studio album, Saint Cloud, Crutchfield is turning back towards the Southern roots she has long defied to embrace elements of her country-flavored musical upbringing while continuing to chart ahead and seek out new personal discoveries.
Though not overtly country, Saint Cloud is unabashedly warm and twangy. Its melodramatic tones underscore songs that are musically simple and lyrically honest, a modern indie interpretation of Harlan Howard’s enduring virtue of “three chords and the truth.” Slow-burning keyboards and jangly guitars guide Crutchfield’s open-hearted dialogue to new heights, both in terms of its poetic depth and melodic sensibilities. Rich, textured vocals magnify the big and lush atmosphere of “Oxbow,” a sweet personal statement on spiritual clarity and Crutchfield’s newfound sobriety.
More delicate balladry appears on “Ruby Falls” and “St. Cloud,” downtempo tracks that take an intense look back at specific moments and places in Crutchfield’s life to shed light on the inevitable bumps in the road we all must face throughout our lives. When upbeat, the record is sun-filled and pop-friendly, amplifying the album’s evocative sense of bright colors and imagery. Prominent guitar lines gear up the grooves and drive home the message on the fuck-it-I-love-you jam “Can’t Do Much” and the self-accepting “Hell.”
Both consciously abstract and excruciatingly cathartic, Crutchfield’s writing has never been so compelling. At once, it evokes sadness and captures the hard-earned inner peace that empowers those who grow through times of pain and deep self-reflection. The serene balance between her yearning vocals and the breezy instrumentation and is nothing short of serene, capable of tugging on your heartstrings while still making you want to dance. Stoic and sublime, Saint Cloud is a punchy Americana record that figures to be among 2020’s very best.