Waxahatchee – ‘Cerulean Salt’

For her second album, Katie Crutchfield brings a brutal and intensive beauty to life’s failures and fuck-ups

The 19th century Romantic poet John Keats once declared: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” He may have been gifted when it came to producing a natty rhyming couplet, but John Keats was completely fucking clueless when it came to reality in all its no-frills grubbiness. The truth is ugly and it takes a sturdy soul to face it head-on without dressing it up in something prettier.

Enter Waxahatchee, aka Katie Crutchfield, who previously honed her indier-than-you credentials playing in the Bikini Kill-inspired PS Eliot and jangly four-piece The Ackleys with twin sister Alice. Last year, she hunkered down in the basement of her parents’ Deep South getaway spot in Waxahatchee Creek to record the lovelorn, lo-fi crackle of solo debut ‘American Weekend’. Follow-up ‘Cerulean Salt’ was laid down in a Philadelphian subterranean punk commune instead, but she’s still brutally picking at old scabs to expose the muck festering underneath. The truth has seldom sounded so good.

With a scuzzy head-tip to the likes of Belly and Throwing Muses, Crutchfield gets stuck right into the guts of life’s seedier side – or, as she insists on the opener ‘Hollow Bedroom’, “I don’t believe I care at all/What they hear through these walls”. What follows is a full-frontal ode to not knowing what the hell you’re doing in life, a mishmash of mistakes made by fuck-ups and the fucked-up. “Won’t you just let me pretend this is the love I need?” she sighs on the deceptively sweet ‘Swan Dive’, picking over the clumsy confusion of a failed relationship’s final death rattle.

That knife-twisting honesty runs throughout. On ‘Lips And Limbs’ Crutchfield is caught in a loveless clinch with an undesired paramour, resigned to “whisper weekly things I do not mean” even though she “can’t feel a thing”. On the stilted, scruffy ‘Blue Pt II’, she’s stuck between devotion and suffocating infatuation, admitting, “I can’t breathe behind this curtain that we keep”.

Crucially, there’s always enough snark to stop her ruthless self-assessments turning into syrupy bobbins, whether it’s in the murky, Pixies-ish bass of ‘Brother Bryan’, or ‘Coast To Coast’ and its Elliott Smith-like fuzz-pop. And she’s not shy of putting other hapless characters under her microscope, either – ‘Dixie Cups And Jars’ sees her as a spectator at a friend’s wedding, painting their would-be happy matrimony into blackened nuptials. “I watched your dad give you away”, she says, her voice curled into an unsympathetic snarl. “Make-up sits on your face like tar… I am an arid abyss.”

Given the wincing brazenness that’s come before, there’s something defiantly cathartic when Crutchfield signs off with the cracked ‘You’re Damaged’ – but then, on an album of such skin-prickling precision, there’s no need for big exits. Truths rarely come as beautiful as this.

Ben Hewitt