Magazine article The New Yorker

First-Person Singular

Magazine article The New Yorker

First-Person Singular

Article excerpt


Waxahatchee's unadulterated songs.

Almost exactly a year ago, Katie Crutchfield sent a message to her Twitter followers: "wrote a 4 minute long song for the first time in my life." She was twenty-five years old, and although her tweet could have been mistaken for the triumphant cry of a novice songwriter, Crutchfield was not in any sense a beginner. Since she was fourteen, she has released dozens of albums, singles, cassettes, and digital downloads, working alone or with bandmates, a category that has often included her twin sister, Allison. What began as an extracurricular activity has become a career, as more people have discovered the sneaky power of Crutchfield's short songs, which aren't nearly as sketchy as they first seem. A typical composition requires only a couple of minutes, not many more chords, and a fistful of acute lyrics delivered in the first person, present tense. Often, Crutchfield seems to be reliving a decisive moment between indecisive people: I do this, you do that, we do something else. Her voice is achy but unembellished, except for the lungfuls of air that escape along with the words: when you hear her sing, you are also hearing her breathe.

For the past few years, Crutchfield's main concern has been Waxahatchee, a band that is also, more or less, a solo project: she writes all the songs, makes all the consequential decisions, and manages the fluctuating lineup. The first full-length Waxahatchee album, "American Weekend," appeared in 2012, the quiet and unnervingly intense product of a weeklong burst of solitary writing and recording. The follow-up, "Cerulean Salt," came out the next year. In putting the album on its "Best New Music" list, the music Web site Pitchfork called it "blazingly honest," not because Crutchfield's songs necessarily reflect her life--how could we know for sure?--but because she sings them as if they did, and because she writes the kind of lyrics that can make listeners feel like eavesdroppers. Crutchfield began to accumulate the trappings of indie celebrity--a Twitter endorsement from Lena Dunham ("@k_crutchfield You make me feel like a natural woman"), an appearance at Coachella--alongside some less expected ones. In an episode from Season 4 of "The Walking Dead," Beth Greene, a thoughtful teen-ager, sat down at a piano and began singing to herself, murmuring about youthful excess: "We'll buy beer to shotgun / And we'll lay in the lawn / And we'll be good." One of Crutchfield's most finely wrought songs had been reborn as a plot point in a television show about zombies.

The new Waxahatchee album, "Ivy Tripp," marks another step in Crutchfield's ascendance: it was released by Merge Records, which puts her on the same label--although not in the same league--as Arcade Fire. It opens with "Breathless," the song that Crutchfield described in that exuberant tweet. (It is not actually her first song longer than four minutes, as one of her fans reminded her in response.) "Breathless" lasts for four minutes and forty-six seconds, anchored by a stately organ line, and enriched by the warm harmony of Crutchfield's voice, overdubbed:

You take what you want, you call me back

I'm not trying to be yours

You indulge me, I indulge you

But I'm not trying to have it all

To have it all.

The steadiness of that voice makes her sound fearless, and underscores a subtly defiant sensibility that separates her from any number of quietly confessional singer-songwriters. Like many of her songs, this one seems to be about an uneasy relationship, but it also hints at a broader, more political form of dissatisfaction.

When Crutchfield talks about other musicians, she can still sound like an eager young fan. She once tweeted, "i am constantly going to bat for fiona apple like she's my best friend." Then, less than a minute later: "maybe she IS my best friend." She has tattoos on her arms inspired by two bands that inspired her, Rilo Kiley and Hop Along. …

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