With the release of Ivy Tripp in 2015, Katie Crutchfield, a.k.a. Waxahatchee, appeared to be in a good place. The album would find its way to multiple “best of the year” lists (including ours), and Crutchfield had seemingly neutralized some personal drama—a breakup with producer/bandmate Keith Spencer, who also played in her twin sister’s band, Swearin’—before it could wreck everything. Spencer continued to play in Waxahatchee, with Crutchfield telling Pitchfork that Ivy Tripp’s successor would likely revisit the hushed solo sounds of Waxahatchee’s 2012 debut, American Weekend.
That the new, tellingly titled Out In The Storm is Waxahatchee’s loudest, most guitar-oriented album to date reveals not just how plans changed, but also that life circa Ivy Tripp wasn’t what it seemed. Crutchfield says as much in the press materials for the album: “Ivy Tripp doesn’t really have any resolution. It’s a lot of beating around the bush, and superficially trying to see my life clearly, but just barely scratching the surface. Out In The Storm digs into what I was going through without blinking. It’s a very honest record about a time in which I was not honest with myself.”
An unsentimental candor defines Out In The Storm, which is not so much a breakup album as a scathing post-mortem that leaves neither party unsullied. As Crutchfield put it in an interview, the relationship’s intermingling of the professional and the romantic meant its dissolution “rippled throughout every little corner of my life,” and Out In The Storm is a blistering, unsentimental inventory of all the places that hurt can infect.
But it’s hardly a slog. On the contrary, Crutchfield has channeled her pain into some of her catchiest songs to date. Opener “Never Been Wrong” marries the record’s typically pointed lyrics to a wash of electric guitars that would fit in on a Superchunk album. (That the lyrics also point back at Crutchfield—“I spent all my time learning how to defeat / You at your own game, it’s embarrassing”—is also typical.) The guitar-led “Silver” recalls The Strokes, and “Brass Beam” has the warmth of a bar-rock confessional, as a subtle organ boosts Crutchfield singing, “I just wanna run, yeah, I don’t wanna fight / I just wanna sing my songs / And sleep through the night.” “Brass Beam” also perfectly captures the forehead-slapping, “What was I thinking?” moment of clarity that accompanies the end of a bad relationship: “When I think about it, I wanna punch the wall.” “Hear You” is a standout, its slinky, fuzzy, keyboard leading an almost martial, tom-and-snare beat that segues into Out In The Storm’s most dizzyingly catchy chorus.
This being Waxahatchee, Into The Storm offers plenty of quieter moments as well, particularly in the album’s back third: “A Little More” puts Crutchfield’s lilting voice and acoustic guitar front and center, with little adornment. “Fade,” which closes the album, strips everything down further, some quiet piano the only accompaniment to her voice and guitar. It’s the most direct descendent of American Weekend’s sound and ends the album on a somber note as Crutchfield sings, “I’m fading, fading, fading, fading away.”
Out In The Storm directly contradicts that sentiment, both generally, in its too-loud-and-hooky-to-ignore sound, and specifically, in “Sparks Fly,” the album’s halfway point. A dispatch from one of those nights where fun and optimism pierce through the self-defeating fog that lingers in the wake of a bad breakup, “Sparks Fly” finds joy and liberation on the other side of the pain. “I’m a live wire, finally,” Crutchfield sings.
She found the right people to help make that happen. Out In The Storm’s guitar rock was undoubtedly encouraged by producer John Agnello, whose long discography includes the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, Kurt Vile, Jimmy Eat World, and many others. Katie Harkin, Sleater-Kinney’s touring guitarist, contributed guitar leads, and Crutchfield’s twin sister and sounding board, Allison, played keyboards and percussion.
Each Waxahatchee album has felt like a big step forward, and Out In The Storm feels like the biggest one yet. Maybe it’s not where Crutchfield expected to be on her next album, but it’s hard to argue anything else would have been better.
Purchase Out In The Storm here, which helps support The A.V. Club.