Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

Much of modern music feels completely plastic and disposable these days.  I know that sounds very NIMBY and “get off my lawn” of me, which very well may be the case. As a flawed human being constantly looking inward and harping on loss: personal, youth, or innocence, Saint Cloud not only manages to be relatable but also a breath of fresh air in the current hyper bizarre musical climate.

Released in 2020, Saint Cloud is a stunning collection of songs that showcase Katie Crutchfield’s incredible talent as a songwriter and musician. The album draws from a wide range of influences, including country, folk, and rock, resulting in a sound that is both timeless and contemporary.

The album’s opening track, “Oxbow,” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its gentle acoustic guitar and Crutchfield’s evocative vocals. As the album progresses, we are treated to a series of intimate and deeply personal songs, each one a testament to Crutchfield’s songwriting skills.  “Oxbow” brings me back to my childhood times at our family camp on False River (an oxbow itself).  There was also a restaurant 100 yards away aptly named…The Oxbow.  As she repeatedly belts “I want it all,” I’m transported back to Pointe Coupee Parish, my 7 year old self staring at the stars, taking advantage of the Oscar, LA clear skies on the roof of our family Suburban (nod to the album cover as well). We’re so clueless about what pain and beauty lay ahead of us at that age.  There is a price we all pay for wanting it all. PS: your Uncles and I regret selling the camp.  We were too young when it became ours and were all in different states.  I’d love nothing more than to share those astral memories with you.

“Can’t Do Much” features a catchy melody and infectious chorus, as Crutchfield sings about the ups and downs of a relationship. The song’s simple yet effective arrangement, featuring acoustic guitar and a driving drum beat, perfectly captures the song’s themes of longing and uncertainty. The next track is another standout. “Fire” is, I’m guessing, a metaphor for the intensity of love and the destructive power of a relationship that is not sustainable.  What I like so much about this is that the song is from the perspective of the one making the decision to leave the other.  Broken relationships aren’t always unilateral.

Next is “Lilacs.”  This may be my pick for the best song of the decade thus far. This track features a driving rhythm section and soaring guitar lines, as Crutchfield sings about love, loss, and the passage of time. The song’s chorus is particularly powerful, with Crutchfield’s vocals reaching new heights as she sings, “And if my bones are made of delicate sugar, I won’t end up anywhere good without you….I need you to love too.”  This track is a slow-burning ballad that builds to a stunning climax. Crutchfield’s vocals are at their most vulnerable on this track, conveying a sense of longing and heartbreak that is palpable.  I love it.

“Hell” is a beautiful, emotional slog.  This very easily could’ve been a very popular Lucinda Williams or Dolly Parton song.  A heart-wrenching declaration of independence: “And I won’t forgive you, and I won’t forget / All the ways you’ve hurt me, and all the ways we met.”  

What I love most about this album is Crutchfield’s honesty and vulnerability.  Each song on the album feels like a window into her soul, as she lays bare her deepest fears, hopes, and desires.  Too often we let our egos mask our inner selves.  Don’t let your true self hibernate.  Dad’s been asleep for too long.

If you dig this, and I hope you do, check out her side project Plains and her partner Kevin Morby’s work.  Both fantastic.

Favorite Tracks: “Lilacs” “Oxbow” “Fire” “Can’t Do Much”
Pressing: Merge Records. MRG704.  Original. 2020.