Album Reviews

Waxahatchee: Early Recordings (Merge)

waxahatchee

Waxahatchee
Early Recordings
Merge Records

From little acorns, great trees grow…

If you were to have told Katie Crutchfield in 2011 that her new project Waxahatchee would make her a critical darling, I’m sure she would have scoffed. After all, on first listen, the five songs that constituted her debut record—one side of a split cassette with Chris Clavin of Plan-It-X Records—are quite lo-fi, tentative, and, frankly, neither remarkable nor revelatory—you can find this sort of thing littered all over Bandcamp and Etsy.

But listening further, underneath the hiss and the atmosphere, there’s something charming about what’s to be found on these five songs, liberated from obscurity and reissued on cassette via new label Merge. For me, I was won over by this line, from “Clumsy”: “Being clumsy’s an explanation, not an excuse.” Sung with sweetness, it’s a potent, sad little confessional song. Crutchfield channels the spirit and style of Mary Lou Lord—a very good thing in my book. “Home Game” and “Whiskey & Math,” while excellent, seem less like finished thoughts but statements of intent—their demo quality belies the sense that these sons deserve bigger and stronger arrangements. Not so for “Black Candy,” which is perfect as is (even if its melody borrows heavily from Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”) and a foretaste of American Weekend, her debut album, which was released a year later.

Crutchfield’s songs here are formative stepping stones; her maturation as a songwriter came quickly, and anyone seeking these songs out merely on the basis of her most recent work might find these rare moments of raw emotion to be quite enjoyable and compelling in their own right.

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