Although it takes a little time to get into, Waxahatchee’s third album Ivy Tripp further refines and develops what’s always been endearing about the Philly based singer-songwriter. Waxahatchee is the by any other name solo project of Katie Crutchfield, well known for her work with her sister Allison (now of the equally great Swearin’) in P.S Eliot, The Ackleys, Bad Banana, with Keith Spencer in Great Thunder and since 2012, with a rotating cast of Philadelphia DIY stalwarts throughout her first two albums American Weekend and Cerulean Salt.
While it’s no means a difficult first listen, coming off Cerulean Salt Ivy Tripp doesn’t really exude its best qualities the first time around. It goes back again to as a listener having these expectations in your head of what an artist should sound like, and when they veer away from that a little bit, your brain can trick you into thinking it’s not quite as good as it really is. Whereas previous albums were very much based around the traditional instrument setup, Ivy Tripp is the first foray into a Waxahatchee with pianos, synthesizers and even drum machines at times. It’s not jarring per se, just something that takes a 2nd listen to get used to, especially with a lot of the songs still around the 2-3 minute mark of previous albums.
But then on that 2nd and subsequent listens it really begins to stand out how Katie has taken the development from American Weekend to Cerulean Salt and gone further again. In my previous review I talked about diary-like lyrics and in some ways I always find Katie’s writing as another take on that concept, focusing on the confessional and heartbreak that effects us all but most of are too stubborn or anxious to discuss. Ivy Tripp once again hones in on that, just this time in some different forms, like the legitimate pop song of ‘La Loose’ (And I try to persist the routine, I don’t want to discuss what it means), complete with hoo hoo hoo self-harmonizing. The experimentation outside of the traditional instruments ends up going in some really interesting directions. A song like ‘Stale By Noon’ with nothing else but Katie’s lyrics and a simple repeating organ (or even glockenspiel? I may play guitar half-heartedly but I’m not great at naming instruments) ends up being really effective.
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‘Air’ was the album’s lead single and probably Ivy Tripp’s standout track, and good thing too as it perfectly represents the meeting of the old and new Waxahatchee, bringing in some lovely lead synth with the atmospheric guitar lines. If you want to see how this album differs to the past two, that’s the track to start with. It’s not to say all of these little experiments are at a polar opposite to the work done on her preceding albums. One of the best songs on the album, ‘Summer Of Love’ could be ripped straight out of that weekend, only this time around with a little more clarity and focus and with a chorus like A Summer of Love is a photo of us, it’s another heartbreaking lament and something so simple but also a poignant statement for anyone who’s had such a seasonal romance. I’m a fan of lo-fi but American Weekend was one of the few times I thought it was at the detriment of the songs, so to see that approached refined is a nice thing. ‘Under A Rock’ and ‘Less Than’ are another pair that would have slotted into Cerulean Salt as well, the former probably the most Waxahatchee song with a bite so far and a pumpin’ jam to boot and the latter with a veering chorus of anguish (You’re less than me, I am nothing.)
Subjectively that’s the theme to me here, it’s just us a listener hearing Katie Crutchfield develop a skill (songwriting) that she’s become very proficient in. That shouldn’t surprise anyone given this is by no means her first time around the block by now. If you go back as far as listening to some of that pre-Waxahatchee work, even to her days writing songs and playing shows with her sister as a teenager in The Ackleys, you can hear the sound of someone growing up, maturing, enduring the emotional rollercoasters that life usually presents us with and coming out wiser each time and honestly, as someone who’s current predicament hasn’t exactly panned out the way I saw it, it’s inspiring. Katie’s only in her mid 20s, but she’s got songwriting chops beyond her years, and her recent signing to Merge in the US and increasing exposure over here in the UK shows that if you keep sticking at it, things will pay off eventually.
Credit has to go out once again as well to producer Kyle Gilbride, who’s knack for producing a beautiful sounding album doesn’t stop here, meeting the scope and ambition of a project like Waxahatchee but not as something completely stripped away from the previous albums’ lo-fi roots. It’s no surprise he’s been the go to producer in that scene for a while now.
Much like Cerulean Salt was, Ivy Tripp is both a further development of Katie Crutchfield’s writing under the Waxahatchee moniker and another shift in sound, which while initially takes a little readjustment but reaps its own rewards. There is no doubt that Katie could have written Cerulean Salt or American Weekend 2 and it would have been perfectly fine but rather than resting on her laurels she’s tried something a little different again and thankfully it pays off. It’ll be an album to keep around for those sensitive feeling days this year for saying what you can’t.
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