Record of the Week

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Waxahatchee – Ivy Trip

Waxahatchee – Ivy Trip

Katie Crutchfield, who performs under the guise of Waxahatchee, is what it might sound like if a bundle of nerves could talk.

On her group’s third and most structured album, Ivy Tripp, the Alabama native takes stock of circumstances, possibilities, and worries from close-up perspectives informed by first-hand experience and imagined scenarios. Dealing with relationships and expectations, Crutchfield addresses themes to which most 20- and 30-somethings can easily relate in a clever fashion largely free of irony yet loaded with sharp-tongued directness. She navigates the balance between keeping her distance and getting intimate, and when accusations fly, doesn’t spare herself from blame.

While Crutchfield observes love from a cautionary stance, she refrains from viewing it with a jaundiced eye. Since the band’s 2013 breakout and largely solo-based Cerulean Salt, she’s also gained more confidence, which is on display throughout the more put-together record. Waxahatchee’s lo-fi roots remain visible, yet many songs call for a full band, and some even rock out with the four-on-the-floor beats and dynamic thrusts. Each claims ownership of a subtle hook or wordless melody. Crutchfield’s modest country-tinged voice emerges as a fuller instrument, too, with her phrasing weaving between dips and divots created by spare bass lines, humming organs, and stair-climbing percussion.

Against raw and exposed arrangements, the vocalist often seems as if she’s singing thoughts to a best friend or delivering a break-up notice to an ex amidst the commotion at a bar. And where Crutchfield could appear overly fragile and insecure on past efforts, the 26-year-old comes across with deeper maturity and self-assuredness here. She’s still confessional, openly vulnerable, and occasionally sad, yet she also expresses unmistakable determination and punk-derived toughness.

“You’re less than me/I am nothing,” she repeats on the fuzz-coated scrawl of “<,” demonstrating both the will to knock herself down a notch and float above the ruinous fray of a wrecked romance. On the chiming bash-and-pop of “Under a Rock,” Crutchfield confronts insatiability and expendability as she evaluates her role and future. Similarly unflinching, the beautifully minimalist piano ballad “Half Moon” reflects the vocalist’s penchant to evaluate states of affairs with painful honesty. “Our love tastes like sugar/But it pours all the life out of me,” she sighs in a tattered tone, resigned to accepting loss and moving on.

Indeed, Ivy Tripp might be pockmarked with moments of despondency and uncertainty, yet the record never wallows in despair. Crutchfield often gives reason for optimism in spite of outlying challenges. She takes space to locate her bearings on the rubbery “Poison,” admits a need for companionship the deceivingly innocent “La Loose,” and relishes peacefulness on the acoustic “Summer of Love,” a devotional tune accented with the natural sounds of the outdoors and a barking dog.

“I’m not trying to have it all,” Crutchfield sing-states with authoritativeness on the back-and-forth emotional teeter-totter that is “Breathless,” before closing the serious dirge with a frolicking la-la-la coda that could’ve been pulled straight out of the hills scene in The Sound of Music. It’s the mounting echo of an intelligent artist that may not know exactly what she wants, but who realizes sorting through anxieties ultimately lead to finding one’s identity. —Bob Gendron

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