Waxahatchee’s ‘Air’ Embraces Change And A Broader Palette

Waxahatchee's latest album, Ivy Tripp, is out April 7 via Merge.
Waxahatchee’s latest album, Ivy Tripp, is out April 7 via Merge.

I wrote a quick couple paragraphs about Waxahatchee’s amazing new song “Air” from her upcoming album Ivy Tripp. You can read that as part of NPR Music’s Songs We Love series.

You can also read a slightly different version that was used for NPR’s Heavy Rotation series.

Below, here’s a much longer, and unedited ramble about Katie Crutchfield’s music, about being in transition and embracing change, even when it’s hard.

Being in your 20s can feel so uncertain, with every decision both opening up new possibilities, while closing off others. It can be hard to make a real change, to find an identity outside of school, and to accept that sometimes the things we aspire to in life can be compromised along the way and end up not turning out how we originally imagined. That’s an important part of getting older and becoming comfortable with yourself. Few songwriters have captured that quite like Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, who writes about love and regret, and the conflicted transition of youth better than almost anyone out there right now.

American Weekend, Waxahatchee’s 2012 debut, was born amid such a personal crossroads, after blowing up what felt safe — in Crutchfield’s case, breaking up P.S. Eliot — her pop punk band with her sister Allison — and moving home to figure out what’s next. In those moments of sadness, Crutchfield turned to fragile acoustic songs that dealt honestly with those emotions, and finding clarity by stripping it all away and seeing what’s left to salvage.

From there, came 2013’s Cerulean Salt, a superb extension that gave Crutchfield a shaper edge — both sonically by adding drums and distorted electric guitars, and lyrically, with words that felt raw and sometimes angry, less timid and more willing to speak her mind with a I-don’t-give-a-fuck confidence.

And just as it has been a joy to hear that evolution, watching it develop right front of your eyes on stage has been even more exciting. From those first quiet solo sets, Crutchfield has become a full band — sharing members of her sister’s band Swearin’ — allowing the brooding energy and gnarled feedback to intertwine between her phrases. Not unlike the growth of songwriters like Sharon Van Etten or Torres or Angel Olsen, Waxahatchee’s songs now exude a propulsive thrust that heightens the emotional weight.

Now, Waxahatchee is already back with her next record, Ivy Tripp, her debut on the fantastic indie label Merge — as perfect an artistic fit as you will find. Out April 7, the album seems like it will only continue the sonic exploration, which you can absolutely hear in her first single, “Air.”

Recorded and produced with Kyle Gilbride and Keith Spencer (of Swearin’), “Air” demonstrates a broader musical palette, complimenting her once-minimal arrangements with steadily thudding drums, and keyboards and ghostly harmonies that swell from the corners at just the right emotional moments. And Crutchfield’s lyrical themes are as piercing as ever as she reflects on changes in her life.

“I think a running theme [of Ivy Tripp] is steadying yourself on shaky ground and reminding yourself that you have control in situations that seem overwhelming, or just being cognizant in moments of deep confusion or sadness, and learning to really feel emotions and to grow from that,” says Crutchfield. “I heard someone say that you have to be the change you want to see. I just want to be the kind of musician I want to see in the world. I want to present myself in a way that reflects that.”

In “Air,” Crutchfield achingly sings about the directionless of being in your 20s, and, on relationships and loneliness. “I left you out like a carton of milk / you were quick to query me, but I wanted you still to relay something warm, to break off a good piece / but you won’t be, you wont be.” Elsewhere, she turns the knife even more, taking on the uneasy second-guessing of that relationship: “When we are moving, we just pretend to be strangers lamenting / a means to an end.”

In a very short time, it’s been amazing to witness Crutchfield grow from an intimate project to an emboldened songwriter capable of cathartically ripping your heart out. If “Air” is emblematic of what Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp has in store, we’re all in for something special.