It's the intimacy in Katie Crutchfield's voice that pulls you in, and she's been putting it out there since she started the solo project of Waxahatchee in 2011. The name comes from a lake near her parents house in Alabama. Her third album Ivy Tripp is out now on Merge Records and it's the beautiful sum of a remarkable journey of expansion, one that she's been on since her first record, American Weekend.
"Ivy Tripp is about directionlessness," Crutchfield said in a recent interview. "People wandering through life or trying to find things that make them happy without conforming to the structure previous generations had." On the opening song, "Breathless," she sings, "I'm not trying to be yours/You indulge me/I indulge you/I'm not trying to have it all."
This album feels very much of this generation. Her lyrics are poignant and biting, and she's trying to describe that time of disorientation that everyone in their early twenties goes through. It's like you're standing in the middle of the street and you feel the headlights of a car coming but it's too late and you can't move, so you just try to go limp.
Waxahatchee has somehow managed to keep the close, vulnerable quality of her early bedroom confessional sound while expanding her sound and field of vision. I'm reluctant to use that word, "confessional" because it's so often used as a reductive way to describe the work of female artists, whether Joni Mitchell or Sylvia Plath. The implication being that the personal, the subjective, the emotional is easy. That feminine art is low art. But that condescension is the same historical tyranny that has oppressed women psychologically or more graphically through institutionalization or being burnt at the stake. These gender confines, of course, trap men too within the strict ideals of masculinity. But when a man doesn't speak much he's seen as mysterious, and when it's a woman she's seen as shy. Ivy Tripp is like an anthem for shy girls everywhere. "Confessional," it may just be a word, but the truth often lies in the subtlety of language, and it's a word that I think needs to be reclaimed.
I see Waxahatchee as a lo-fi folk contemporary of Angel Olsen, Cass McCombs and early Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous. The draw is the emotion, the depth, and, really, the voice. In her songs, you hear yourself or whoever it is you need to hear. In "Stale By Noon" she sings, "I get lost looking in, I get lost looking up."
The songs on Ivy Tripp tell the stories of the negotiations that we make with others and with ourselves, that we make between what we want and what we need. And so much of growing up is learning that what you want is rarely what you need. On the song "Half Moon," she sings, "Our love tastes like sugar but it pulls all the life out of me." This album is the beautiful stretch marks left by post-adolescence, the scars of the growing pains.