Three years isn’t a long span of time, but a lot can happen in that space. For Katie Crutchfield, A.K.A. Waxahatchee, it was a period of radical reinvention. Following the tour in support of 2017’s Out in the Storm, she quit drinking, moved to Kansas City, MO and started working on songs that would become the spectacular new record, Saint Cloud. While some people may use the act of finding sobriety as an excuse to make a “mature” album, Crutchfield dodges that pitfall at every single turn—and it’s one of the most impressive things about it.
The leap in quality from Out in the Storm to Saint Cloud is huge—which says a lot, considering how good that album was. Every song is crystal clear and audibly sun-drenched, Crutchfield’s every word coming through perfectly. Many of the more relatively raucous edges have been sanded off, those tinges replaced with a hint of alt-country. These songs reach a level of intrigue, largely due to the fact that Crutchfield has discovered a new level of immediacy that renews itself with each passing song.
Crutchfield’s recovery isn’t painted in specifics, minimal lyrics coating the bright atmosphere throughout Saint Cloud—but when she sings “I put you through hell, I put you through hell” or “I’m in a war with myself, it’s got nothing to do with you,” you can feel what she means. Largely, she uses the album to get introspective and learns to love herself. Standout track “Fire” was designed specifically to be about the act of self-acceptance, which she spells out as best she can: “I’m wiser and slow and attuned/ I’m a bird in the trees/ I can learn to see with a partial view.” The imagery surrounding the feelings she’s lived is tack-sharp and bountiful.
While three years isn’t much time, it was light years for Waxahatchee, and Saint Cloud is proof of that. This is a career-defining work that worms its way into your heart effortlessly—you’ll be five full listens in before you realize it. The Crutchfield who made Cerulean Salt and Out in the Storm was talented enough—it feels like a triumph that she was able to unearth even more raw power through the act of healing.