Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee (Photo: Jesse Riggins)

Over the course of three releases, certain expectations about Waxahatchee’s sound have been established, whether bandleader Katie Crutchfield likes it or not. It’s those preconceptions—that her standards are haunting acoustic guitar ballads and bouncy pop songs—that make the blast of noise that opens Ivy Tripp so startling. This burst of rattling static is the harshest noise that’s made its way onto a Waxahatchee release, shaking speakers and all the projected notions of Crutchfield’s music in the process.

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But Crutchfield is quick to recontextualize the ambient buzz of “Breathless” until it feels familiar. Once her voice cuts in, she takes this grating sound and places a heartbreakingly beautiful melody on top. This juxtaposition of ugliness and beauty has been Crutchfield’s calling card since the release of the lo-fi, acoustic album American Weekend. As past releases have proved she’s an expert at lyrical despondence, but Ivy Tripp shows the music can finally be stark enough to match.

Though there are still songs that channel the pop-rock vigor of Crutchfield’s breakout success—2013’s Cerulean Salt—they all are placed next to the most somber songs of her career. The aforementioned “Breathless” is followed by the soaring chorus of “Under A Rock”; the slow-burning “Stale By Noon” is offset by the jangly chords and snappy snare hits of “The Dirt”; each track becoming a testament to Waxahatchee’s versatility. These contrasts are just as apparent in her lyrics, where “<” sees Crutchfield declare “I am nothing,” only after she points out that whoever she’s singing about is somehow worth even less.

Waxahatchee has always existed between poles, but Ivy Tripp finally puts all her sonic explorations under one roof. It’s Crutchfield’s commitment to embracing both sides of herself—and not downplaying either—that makes Ivy Tripp the most accomplished record to bear the Waxahatchee name. Adapting nearly every trend in indie-rock for her own needs, Crutchfield crafts a record that runs the range of human emotion without settling into any one lane. When the record circles back on itself with “Bonfire,” distorted walls of guitar marry the album’s beginning to its end, driving home that fact that, when it comes to Waxahatchee, blunt candor is only thing worth expecting.

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