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Album Review: Cerulean Salt by Waxahatchee

Album Review: Cerulean Salt by Waxahatchee

Brooklyn-based Waxahatchee, the solo project of Katie Crutchfield, is off to a surprisingly good start in terms of critical acclaim and notoriety. So far, Crutchfield’s sound is not too original, but there are hints that she might be capable of greater things.
Melodyful Staff
Waxahatchee's debut album, 'American Weekend', was named a top album of 2012 by Dusted magazine.

Waxahatchee is a Brooklyn-based musical project fronted by Katie Crutchfield. Before forming Waxahatchee, Crutchfield played the guitar and sang in two bands, P.S. Eliot and The Ackleys. Neither of those bands penetrated too far into the mainstream, but Waxahatchee has already received national attention and critical acclaim after only a year of recording.

Waxahatchee's First Album
The first Waxahatchee album, called American Weekend, was released in 2012 on Don Giovanni Records. The album’s pared-down, simple, yet compelling sound earned positive reviews and recognition by well-known outlets like The New York Times and NPR. Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield’s second Waxahatchee album, was released in 2013, also on Don Giovanni, and received good reviews from Pitchfork and Spin, among others.

'Cerulean Salt'
'Cerulean Salt' is reminiscent of the '90s alt-pop/grungy genre with lyrics that are supposedly autobiographical in nature. The songs on this album sound painfully personal, as Crutchfield admits they are. The softness of her voice blends beautifully with the lilting guitar on 'Lips and Limbs', and she chooses pop-punk distortion when she sings 'Coast to Coast'.

There is one song on Cerulean Salt that might give us a glimpse into the real Crutchfield, and that hopefully hints at greater things to come from this young talent. The album’s second track, 'Dixie Cups and Jars', is still reminiscent of a lot of other music—this time it’s more Warpaint or Grass Widow than Mirah—but it also has a uniqueness that’s missing from other Waxahatchee tracks. In this song, Crutchfield is using that slight twang to her advantage, combining it with a compelling urgency, passion, and frustration, to make a sound that’s all her own.

'Dixie Cups and Jars'
The best thing about 'Dixie Cups and Jars', and the thing which convinces me that Crutchfield’s career is worth following, are the lyrics. Most Waxahatchee songs deal with themes typical of alternative/folk music made by young people—confusing relationships, confusing relationships, and confusing relationships. Although confusing relationships are present in 'Dixie Cups' too, there is so much more depth. The lyrics are dark and ephemeral, cryptic but not impenetrable, and hint at themes of rebellion, isolation, and social discontentment, that make the song worth putting on repeat for a while.

Waxahatchee’s Sound
The Waxahatchee sound is strongly reminiscent of early Mirah records, in almost all aspects. Wavering between dark and light melodies, Crutchfield creates just enough atmosphere to express what she wants to, and her lyrics are accessible and quirky. The ever-so-slight twang in her extremely feminine vocals is also reminiscent of Mirah, and these vocals are sometimes layered on Cerulean Salt’s 'Blue, Pt. 2', for example, in a very Mirah-esque style. Simple but effective guitar progressions and bare-bones percussion (when there is any percussion at all) add to the comparison.

A Lack of Identity
There’s no denying that both Waxahatchee albums are enjoyable. Crutchfield has a nice voice, and a knack for creating songs with coherent feeling. I definitely get the impression that she is aiming at genuine expression, rather than fabricating an image or trying to be someone she’s not. That’s rare, and worth praise in itself. The only problem is that it’s not quite clear yet who, exactly, Katie Crutchfield is.

Is Something Better Coming?
These similarities to Mirah are just as evident on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, as they were on American Weekend. This is interesting, since, it usually works the other way around—musicians usually develop their unique sound over time as they continue recording. In Crutchfield’s case, this hasn’t happened yet, but maybe it still will. The production of Cerulean Salt is a huge change from the fuzzy, lo-fi hum of American Weekend, which could be a sign that there is an idea behind Waxahatchee that hasn’t been able to fully come out yet. The unusually short time between Crutchfield’s first and second albums could also have something to do with all this.

Hopefully, Crutchfield will continue with Waxahatchee, and will continue finding her unique sound along the lines of 'Dixie Cups and Jars'. In that song, she sings, "I dream I dive into something greater." That’s this listener’s dream, too. Her first two albums have at least proven that she’s capable of it.