March 2, 2013

Album Review: Waxahatchee's Cerulean Salt

Back in high school, the extent of my music knowledge wasn't as eccentric or refined as it is today, but even so, I still had a particular niche taste few of my peers had yet to discover in a CD collection super-saturated with the go-to names who defined the late '90s and early 2000s indie-emo punk scene. The Get Up Kids. Jawbreaker. Pedro the Lion. The Promise Ring. Rainer Maria. Anything on Vagrant or Jade Tree, for that matter, and yes, that includes Dashboard Confessional. The heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics made it easy for a chronically broken-hearted teenager like myself to find a deeper connection with the songs than say, the gross-out blowjob jokes cracked in a blink-182 song, and because of that, I just assumed that because the music had more to say about a life I related to, it was good. I still hold a special place in my heart for emo nostalgia, but once I arrived in college and began digging into Pitchfork-approved music (which at the time was just rising in relevance,) I was shocked that all my favorite albums were critically panned. 2.0! 2.3! 3.2! 4.4! When the polite, yet ultimately uninteresting girls down the hall in my freshman dorm could be heard blaring Carrabba's The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most as they psychologically masturbated to posters of him, gazing into his deep brown eyes, luscious black locks, imagining his tatted-up arms coming down from the wall to hold them and kissing away their boyfriend dilemmas, I guess it was then that I realized it was time to flee the scene. I had to be a "big boy" now.

Katie Crutchfield's solo project Waxahatchee reminds me of those years, but luckily, just the ones before the sub-genre became dirtied by party chicks more interested in meeting guys in bands after the show rather than thinking about what their soul-baring words said about life. A product of a decade's worth of playing in various basement bands (most notably P.S. Eliot, alongside her sister Alison, now of Swearin',) Crutchfield began approaching punk rock with quieter introspection on last year's small-room acoustic debut American Weekend. On her sophomore effort, Cerulean Salt she -- like a certain former indie-emo pin-up, albeit armed with a matured Master's in Cat Powerology -- delivers strength and confidence outside her bedroom by plugging in with her Swearin' sister and the band's guitarist Kyle Gilbridge, restoring faith in emotive music you can fall in love with without feeling self-conscious about.

Oddly enough, the same tastemaker sites who trashed music like this over a decade ago seem to be on board with it, too, which says a lot about the worth of modern professional opinion altogether. Waxahatchee's style is incredibly simplistic: Songs built around Crutchfield's softly plucked six-string, putting focus on the words inside her true life lyrical reflections that ultimately end up carrying the weight of the music altogether. It's hard to imagine that back in the early Aughties when acclaim was being assigned to ingenuity and backlash was to be had against such musical diaries, the LP's sparse opener "Hollow Bedroom" or subsequent buttoned-up listens like "Brother Bryan," "Tangled Envisioning" and "You're Damaged" would have worked with critics. Their revisionist history is trying to make the world think Rainer Maria never existed or that Chris Carrabba never did time in hardcore bands before fronting a massively successful acoustified one that landed on One Tree Hill, which is an incredible disservice to Waxahatchee's trailblazers and unintentionally causes confusion as to what makes her work today any different than theirs. The album's electric moments might provide the only answers to that, as the rousing pop hooks and alt-rock feedback from "Coast to Coast" and "Waiting" mimic the transition period when her emo predecessors were branching out into what become a traditional form of the early millennium's tastemaker-accepted indie rock.

Cerulean Salt is not at all be confused as a disappointment defined by past journalistic atrocities, but an outlet for them to atone for their sins. Crutchfield's bedroom confessionals about love woes and regrets played on four chords are the sort of thing that make a 16-year-old girl pick up a guitar, learn the Waxahatchee song that speaks to her current boy stress and uploads a cover of it onto YouTube. While imperfectly uncomplicated and a stark contrast to the last few years of loud, physical punk contortionism in the underground, realize that Waxahatchee restarts the conversation over the difference between assigning value to music not because of how it changes the way we think about it, but rather how it makes us feel. In this instance, Cerulean Salt evokes enough of it to leave your emotions floored.

Waxahatchee's Cerulean Salt will be released March 5, 2013 on Don Giovanni Records.


  1. Ha! This is a great review and makes a guy just want to go lie in the grass and listen to Pedro the Lion and Mineral. Maybe even a little Strictly Ballroom.

  2. Followed this from a link over on SGum. Gotta agree with you here in regards to the revisionist history that seems to erase or at least avoid the emo roots of a lot of up and coming indie darlings. I would go a step further and point out that the indie press seems to even be in denial of the relevance of many emo darling comebacks. Where was the coverage of the newest Get Up Kids album? It wasn't that bad! Braid has recently reunited as well, though that news seems to be wedged in between reports on The Wonder Years and Fall Out Boy on some less revered sites that will go unnamed.

    I think it is about time that site that fall in line with Pitchfork start to consider the influence those 90's midwestern bands had on the current musical climate.

  3. The only thing I could possibly say in Pitchfork's defense on this...those albums you mentioned (with the exception of Rainer Maria) do really pale in comparison with those band's other works. I mean, Something to Write Home About was okay at the time, but no one liked it more than Four Minute Mile. Also, fuck Vagrant. Took every band I liked and let them release some of their worst material. Fuck Vagrant.

  4. There is something to be said about how every indie-emo band's demise began with their first release on Vagrant, isn't there...