The temptation to shoehorn Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, playing under the name Waxahatchee, into the procession of confessional women in the arts belies the depth of her second album Cerulean Salt. One interview categorised Crutchfield as “like Lena Dunham with a guitar” which sounds like the worst party ever but actually isn’t far from the truth. While she never holds herself up as a loveable loser like the writer’s character in Girls, Crutchfield does turn an unflinching gaze on her life and relationships that makes for invigorating listening. The steady directness of the lyrics and brevity of the songs mean that though it is unreservedly sad Cerulean Salt never mopes into self-pity, thanks to the unfussy delivery of lines like “I said to you on the night we met ‘I am not well’” in ‘Brother Bryan’.
A straight-shooting reflective album from a girlish American voice is bound to be held up against Liz Phair’s 1993 near-perfect Exile In Guyville but Cerulean Salt’s sparse fuzzy guitars and scratchy rhythms mean that comparisons of both subject and sound are inevitable. And despite the stature of its predecessor it doesn’t get totally overshadowed. It’s lazy, to say the least, to only compare female artists with each other but there is a clear line from Phair, Kim Deal’s The Breeders and its offshoot The Amps to here especially on lead single ‘Coast To Coast’, a summery blockbuster with a sub-two minute running time, buzzing rhythm and sugary ‘ooh-oh-oohs’ over feedback. But again Waxahatchee doesn’t buckle under the weight of the comparison.
There is definitely a tinge of alt-rock/grunge nostalgia at the core of the record along side lashings of that great 90s guiding force angst at the heart of these songs that could be dismissed as pastiche but the outcome here is too meaty to pass up. “I cling to indifference, you to your worst memory…and I will grow out of all the empty bottles in my closet, and you’ll quit having dreams about a swan dive to the hard asphalt” Hutchfield sings on album closer ‘Swan Dive’, a breakup song that suggests they haven’t even got together yet. ‘Dixie Cups And Jars’ looms large with images of an already doomed marriage at the wedding and ends with the line “I am an arid abyss”, which in the mouth of most would cloy but for Hutchfield, like most of the album, it pays off.
The arrangements are affectedly lo-fi and repetitious, the topics are on the face of it trite and the ground has been recovered in the recent past to good effect by the likes Sharon Van Etten but Cerulean Salt still seems vital. The scruffy charm and purity of Hutchfield’s lyrics make this an affecting collection of songs that blows away any whiff of maudlin indulgence or by-the-numbers nostalgia.