Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) is known for writing excellent, melodic guitar-driven indie rock, but on her latest EP, a collection of six re-recorded songs from a lesser-known 2012 side project, she strips back the full-band sound of last year’s Out in the Storm, and uses simple arrangements and acoustic instruments to truly take listeners on an emotional journey.
Opener “Singer’s No Star” sets the mood for the album. Gone are the distorted guitars and power chords, and instead we are presented with a slow, steady piano tune, with Crutchfield showing off some of her most soulful vocals to date. While the melody meanders a bit, it allows more focus to be put on the emotional lyrics, with Crutchfield dropping lines like “I’m not the only thing you ever left”, that seep out loneliness. The backing “shoop-be doops” are so dispirited, one wonders if she is purposefully trying to write the saddest doo-wop song ever.
The despair on that song continues on “You’re Welcome”, which also utilizes a simple piano and vocals arrangement, with Crutchfield taking her voice to a higher registry, to make lines like “I cried all night when you came to my side” even more agonizing. The album begins to show signs of moving past despair into open sadness on “Chapel of Pines”, one of the more lush songs on the album. Beginning as a backwoods folk lament over acoustic guitars, mournful harmonies kick-in on the chorus, with Crutchfield asking her lover “Will you go?” When the piano comes in, airs of Bob Dylan‘s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, and with it the first sounds of healing.
“You Left Me With an Ocean” finds our narrator still in a fragile state, as she sings about swimming in garbage over piano and orchestration so delicate it’s almost inaudible. Crutchfield sings with acceptance of her situation, as she coos “I swim in it too”. What follows is the album’s most upbeat song, “Slow You Down”. Acoustic guitars return, as Crutchfield harmonizes “Realize, we’re not that far away. We will chase the dimmest light of day”. When the electric guitar comes in, backed by maracas, we get our first sign of hope on the album, as if the narrator finally sees a light at the end of her tunnel.
And while final track “Takes So Much” still packs an emotional punch, Crutchfield sings it with the confidence of someone who has gone through hell and come out the other end stronger. With the lines “I say, you will see it clearly. Give it some time. I say, you will leave all of your failure behind”, it’s unclear if she’s singing to herself or someone going through a similar experience, but it really doesn’t matter. The message is the same – no matter how dark things get, you can get through this. A message we could certainly all use.
Waxahatchee perfectly tracked Great Thunder to lead listeners on a journey, from hopelessness to catharsis. It’s no easy feat to write an album that truly tells a story through its emotional tone, instrumentation and lyrics cohesively, which makes this collection of six songs all the more impressive.