Arriving after her 2017 LP, Out in the Storm, Katie Crutchfield’s new release as Waxahatchee plays like an extended comedown from that last album. While Storm was full-bodied and full of high-spirited, agitated rock and noise, the Great Thunder EP features second looks at old songs and the emotional equivalent of long sighs.
Four of the six tracks on this slight, but satisfying, EP were originally released in 2013 by Great Thunder, Crutchfield’s project with Keith Spencer. Those songs—“Singer’s No Star,” “Chapel of Pines,” “You Left Me With an Ocean” and “Takes So Much”—do not deviate here in their performance and tone, but they are polished to a shine that they deserve. Crutchfield also digs a little deeper into each song, delivering them with slightly richer, more skillful vocals than five years ago, and with a more nuanced melancholic spirit. The thoughtful, closer-to-acoustic trappings of these songs harken back to the earlier Waxahatchee albums; and if you have caught Crutchfield performing as an opening act within the past couple years, you will be familiar with some of these songs, and this particular iteration of Waxahatchee. While the music, in theory, sounds somewhat familiar to Crutchfield’s early albums, the production value has definitely increased, allowing you to fully hear and appreciate these songs.
Naturally, however, this being a small, EP release, the songs are not quite as fully formed as they might be if they were produced for a full-length album. Each song tends to introduce a thought, idea, or refrain and then repeat it, turning it into a sort of trance—or a sedative, alternatively. The centerpiece of the album, “Chapel of Pines” in particular primarily features Crutchfield’s plaintive question, “Will you go?” Despite the half-formed feeling of a lot of these tracks, Crutchfield’s skill and maturity at this stage of her career still guide her into crafting them into something beautiful, even if they fail to completely satisfy the listener. “Chapel of Pines,” being the most bare-bones song on the EP, however, still becomes the stickiest and most resonant long after listening.
“Singer’s No Star” is a compelling EP-starter, featuring Crutchfield’s vocals rising from low to soft and high over a simple piano beat. “You’re Welcome,” follows, but as it continues with the basic piano established in the first track, feels like a second part of the first, rather than its own standalone creation. “You Left Me With An Ocean” picks up that same simple, piano plunking—after a slight musical detour with “Chapel of Pines”—although now the piano “plunking” sounds just like that as if composed in a bedroom with a starter keyboard—but with production value. It’s a subtle, charming touch that adds to the grounded nature of the entire EP. “Slow You Down” loses the piano for easygoing guitar work, that’s electrified just enough to give the track a zap of life.
The closer “Takes So Much” returns to that piano accompaniment but Crutchfield delivers especially raw vocals that leave the EP in a relatively strong place. Most of the EP doesn’t stray too far from one or two musical ideas, but the vocals of Crutchfield—when fully emotional and sometimes even straining as in “Pines” and “Takes So Much”—are compelling enough for fans of Waxahatchee and Crutchfield’ musical voice to find something satisfying in the EP. It’s not a meal, but maybe more like a handful of almonds to snack on. If you’re a fan of Crutchfield, this is just enough of a treat to whet your appetite before the next album release.