The break-up album has been a staple of popular music since its earliest days. There are no shortage of records that document the loss of a significant other, and the subsequent moving-on. After at least a half-century of the stuff, it can be difficult for an artist to successfully overcome genre traps and produce something great.
Katie Crutchfield’s sublime new record under the moniker Waxahatchee, “Out in the Storm” is one such success story . Crutchfield doesn’t so much wipe the dust off the tired genre, but rather takes it and makes it her own. “Out in the Storm” captivates not by reinvention or setting a new bar, but by keeping it simple.
Throughout her new record, Crutchfield rarely relies on anything more than melancholy melodies, and her own sharp songwriting and gorgeously textured singing voice. This proves to be a winning combo; “Out in the Storm” relentlessly drops ballad after emotionally resonant ballad, maintaining an aura of resilience over its whole running time, even in moments of remorse. The opener, “Never Been Wrong,” immediately establishes Crutchfield’s towering musical persona. She’s a woman fed up, and the thundering, fuzzy riffs encapsulate her frustrations. The follow-up, “8 Ball” brings it down several notches with a melancholy, but powerfully firm ballad. “When I fall, I will not be ashamed at all,” she sings with stoic, but understated defiance.
This emotional variance is what makes “Out in the Storm” such a wonderful record. Songs range from loud and grungy, like on “Hear Me,” to understated, almost tearful elegies like “Recite Remorse,” a beautiful album stand-out. Crutchfield’s range, in contrast to the simple and straightforward musical compositions she’s singing over, is remarkable.
“Out in the Storm” may be somewhat front-stacked (each of its first five tracks are all massive heavy-hitters) and the musical simplicity, while mostly effective, occasionally sounds a little too basic. But Crutchfield manages so much on this record with so little, it’s hard not to become enamored. Her sparing, poetic lyrics sang with her gritty southern voice make for some of the loveliest songs released all year. “Out in the Storm” proves that age-old genre conventions still have life in them, as long as there are talented singer-songwriters out there willing to create something special with them.