Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud review – the best album of the year so far

Ben Beaumont-Thomas
The Guardian

According to the title of her previous album, Alabama songwriter Katie Crutchfield was Out in the Storm, playing breakup songs with a hulking rhythm section. On the follow-up, she sounds like she’s out the other side of it, more or less.

With the wind dropped and the air cleared, Crutchfield has turned away from indie-rock entirely to embrace the Americana and country-rock of her native region, and in so doing has made the best album of the year so far. Aided by unfussy, clean but never sterile production by Brad Cook – and perhaps the sobriety she has recently embraced – the haze has lifted and her songwriting can really be seen.

What songs these are, genuinely good enough to be compared with peak Dylan: like him, Crutchfield is adept at nestling into the almost comforting niche of heartache and hopping out again with a grin (“Marlee’s in the back just trying to maintain her wind on the weathervane” is just one very Dylanesque line, too). On the infectious mid-tempo hoedown Can’t Do Much, she’s happily hopeless, “honey on a spoon”, and on The Eye there’s more joyously wild new love: “You watch me like I’m a jet stream.”

But the album is full of hard-won wisdom, some of it self-lacerating, set to backings that are variously stoic and bruised. The peak on this high plateau of American song is Ruby Falls, a frank, poetic valediction to a former lover about how things just don’t work out sometimes. You can almost feel her hand in theirs; once again, she clears the air to reveal something beautiful and true.

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