“I have a gift, I've been told, for seeing what’s there,” Katie Crutchfield sings on “The Eye.” Her new album as Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud, is an exercise in that clarity. A follow-up to 2017’s Out in the Storm, an angry, punk breakup record, Saint Cloud flips the perspective from rage to reflection.
In part, that’s because Crutchfield struggled while touring Out in the Storm.
“That record is so raw and volatile, both lyrically and sonically. While at the beginning of the touring cycle it was very powerful to play that, by the end it was pretty exhausting,” Crutchfield says. “It felt clear to me that it wasn’t going to be sustainable for me to continue down that path, as far as sound goes.”
On top of a draining nightly performance, she struggled with the tour lifestyle. Crutchfield got sober that summer and took time off from music to rest. As she did, fragments of Saint Cloud started to come to her — the jumble of lyrics, melodies, and ideas didn’t solidify until she toured with Bonny Doon and heard them cover one of her songs. By summer 2019, she was recording Saint Cloud, a callback to the Americana her last album eschewed.
“The biggest pattern on the record is codependency, whether it be me expressing that externally with another person or examining it internally,” Crutchfield says. “Out in the Storm was super external, super looking out at the world and being angry at something that was outside of me, and with this record, it’s more about being accountable for my own emotions and working through that.”
Indeed, Crutchfield’s perspective is central across the album, proclaiming faults and expressing desire: The jaunty “Hell” warns she’ll drag a lover down with her, while “Oxbow” mourns “I want it all.” On standout track “Fire,” she can’t love unconditionally but “put[s] on a good show.”
But the album’s also filled with tenderness. On “Can’t Do Much,” she’s “honey on a spoon,” and in “The Eye” her body’s painted “like a rose.” Saint Cloud’s not just an exercise in self-excoriation: Crutchfield is peeling back her petals to reveal the color within. Perhaps the most vulnerable track is “Lilacs,” where she reckons with the past, present, and future at once, as life continues apace (“I get so angry, baby / At something you might say / I dream about an awful stranger / Work my way through the day”).
She feels her sobriety made Saint Cloud’s lyrics her most honest, yet gave them claws. Certain lines are gutting: The nostalgic track “Arkadelphia” sighs, “If I burn out like a lightbulb / They'll say ‘She wasn't meant for that life.’” And when in “War” she sings, “I’m in a war with myself / It’s got nothing to do with you,” it’s utterly defiant.
“That line sums up so many of the songs on the record,” Crutchfield says. “I was afraid it was too on-the-nose, but it felt right, it felt so powerful… That’s one of the delicate balances you have to have as a writer, knowing when to lean in and having self awareness around the cloaking of your meaning.”
Switching between direct missives and lyric imagery, Saint Cloud pays special attention to place and all the feelings attached (with Lucinda Williams as a direct influence). Whether she’s on the road with tourmates and her sister or home at Waxahatchee Creek, the lyrics, enhanced by place, are never outshone by it.
Crutchfield says it’s the first record she’s written that she thinks someone might put on to feel good.
“There's so much darkness in the lyrics — I think that’s where I come from always — but I think it's the most hopeful, positive record I’ve ever made,” Crutchfield says. “To me, it's kind of like a redemption story. It’s about having been through something bad and feeling better now.”
Caitlin Wolper is a writer whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vulture, Slate, MTV News, Teen Vogue, and more. Her first poetry chapbook, Ordering Coffee in Tel Aviv, was published in October by Finishing Line Press. She shares her music and poetry thoughts (with a bevy of exclamation points, and mostly lowercase) at @CaitlinWolper.