After the surprise success of 2015’s Ivy Tripp, it seemed as though Waxahatchee, the main project of singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, had plateaued. The album hit hard with the indie rock crowd and received waves of adoration from many influential publications. Surely Crutchfield wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of critical appeal, right? One person can only have so much emotional baggage to draw inspiration from. Fortunately, with their fourth record, Out in the Storm, Waxahatchee proves that the well of personal struggle is far from dry.
The album is a departure from the project’s previous efforts. It is at once a logical, linear progression into a more guitar-ladled sound and at the same time a return to Crutchfield’s roots of no-frills, exposed frustrations. Out in the Storm is an enigma, somehow both the most accessible and most ambitious work we’ve seen from Waxahatchee thus far. It leans toward the Teenage Fanclub vibe with fuzzy indie pop sensibilities serving as the skeleton of the record, rather than the driving force.
Where the previous three albums were motivated by a path toward self-actualization, Out in the Storm boasts a speaker who has secured a grasp on her own identity. The scars from the past are still healing, but Crutchfield has learned from the experiences and is looking forward toward the future. Early on in the album lies the twangy “8 Ball,” a song that blends the stripped down sounds of her early work with a deceptively bubbly rhythm, with bended electric high notes played over acoustic guitar chords. In a continuation of the white-knuckled confessional lyrics featured prominently in her most compelling songs, Crutchfield almost whispers, “What you see / It could not possibly be me / I’m your diversion / I am the wind blowing down your trees.”
As a whole, the album seems to be pushing for a fuller sound than Waxahatchee is known for, with songs designed to reverberate off the walls of a concert hall. “Never Been Wrong,” the record’s opener, is an up-tempo rocker with a wide reach. It so much of a energetic jam that it’s easy to miss the anger hidden within the lyrics: “Does it make you feel good / To watch me stumbling in the dark?”. What was once a plea for acceptance on earlier records has morphed into a resounding roar.
Following suit, the album’s lead single, “Silver,” is power pop at its finest. It maintains a Smashing Pumpkin’s atmosphere, only it’s played in a higher key (which is the basic formula for a Silversun Pickups song). There are dreamlike layers of depth, creating a frame for its tale of carnage. Like many other of Crutchfield songs, this one assumes the role of victimized submission: “I’ll portray the old shag carpet / You can walk all over me.”
Not every song on the album is a head-banger. “Silver” is followed by “Recite Remorse,” a Beach House-esque number in which the band ditches the guitar and builds on the forward momentum of sustained keyboard chords. “Sparks Fly” continues the electronic trend, creating an epic, celestial sound. Yet, it is still very much a song about returning to one’s roots: “I’ll go back South / I’ll leave it all behind / See myself clearly for the first time.”
As Out in the Storm draws to a close, we see a welcome shift back to the acoustic stylings of American Weekend. The stunningly minimal “A Little More” uses repetition to drive its point home: “And I live a little more / I live a little more / And I die a little more / I die a little more.” The album finds it conclusion with “Fade,” an emotional look back on a difficult period of transition. In its bars, Crutchfield wades through all the hardship and pushes forward: “I laid down next to you / For three years shedding my skin / Dreaming about the potential / The person I could have been.”
With an impressive body of work under a variety of different monikers, the Crutchfields continue to prove that they belong to the upper echelon of indie rock artists, and we can look to them to see the direction the genre is heading. Not every song on Out in the Storm is great, but there is persistent greatness to be found throughout the record. A new batch of listeners will look back on this turning point as the album that turned them onto Waxahatchee. Out in the Storm has taken the anguished sincerity of the earlier recordings and has demonstrated that it still has its bite when paired with power chords.