Katie Crutchfield, a.k.a Waxahatchee, brings us a serious Album of the Year contender with her latest project, Saint Cloud. In her most stripped-down work to date, Crutchfield takes influences from folk, country, and Americana to create a refreshing expansion to her sound.
The lyrics throughout Saint Cloud offer vivid imagery of open fields, big sky, long drives, flowers blooming… just a lot of bright country illustrations backed up by the warmth of every vocal melody. This is Crutchfield at her lyrical best, which is a pleasant surprise. Crutchfield had previously stated that she had difficulty writing sober, and Saint Cloud is her first work since getting sober.
The instrumentation throughout the album is simple but super catchy. Everything instrumentally seems perfectly placed where it needs to be in order to flow well with the vocal work and overall vibes of each track. Nobody shows off or does anything to separate themself from the rest of the band in any track. When a solo does kick in, it is a nice complement to everything else heard in the track. A pure example of this would be the guitar solo to end “Hell” (one of the best pieces on the album, by the way). It mimics the addictive chorus melody and emphasizes it to close the book on the track and move on.
“Oxbow” serves as a great steady opener to the album and presents the mood of the entire album thoroughly. It is probably the weakest piece on Saint Cloud in terms of stacking it against its neighbors in the tracklist, but still serves its purpose wonderfully. The following 7 tracks are all incredible. It’s just unreal how good these are; they’re all better than the majority of songs I’ve heard in this style of country in years. Lyrics that hold depth and meaning, steady foot-tapping rhythms, and pleasant uplifting guitar licks and riffs. These are all beautiful in their own right, but “Can’t Do Much”, “Lilacs”, “Hell”, and “Witches” stand out as the industrial furnaces in this album in terms of heat level.
“Lilacs” is already a top option for my Song of the Year “honor” (pretentious much?). Bob-Dylan-esque lyricism and minimal instrumentation throughout compliment the soft vocal work remarkably. “Hell” and “Can’t Do Much” give “Lilacs” a run for its money but “Lilacs” will be a lasting staple for Waxahatchee moving forward; an instant classic in her discography.
The final three tracks on Saint Cloud fall into a slower and more atmospheric spectrum than the other pieces, and it works amazingly as a memorable closing section. “Arkadelphia” and “Ruby Falls” depict attempts at coming to terms with emotional turmoil over instrumentation that really grounds you in the weight of that concept. “St. Cloud” is another outstanding key track and is a perfect closer. Compelling piano, combined with Crutchfield’s vocals ranging over belted highs and profound low notes, really convey the feeling of closure to the album. I’ve probably already said this at least 5 times in this review but, goddammit, it’s beautiful.
As the most experimental work in the Waxahatchee discography, Saint Cloud’s folky style absolutely pays off and more. I would love to see Cructhfield further explore and expand this sound in future projects. I’ve already repeated Saint Cloud in full at least 10 times and I expect many, many more relistens before I even get the slightest bit tired of it.
Best Tracks: Lilacs, Can’t Do Much, Fire, Hell, Witches, War, Ruby Falls, St. Cloud
Weakest Tracks: Oxbow, The Eye
Overall Score: A