Waxahatchee // Ivy Tripp
by Ben Savard on April 7, 2015
Posted in: Album Review
Album: Waxahatchee– Ivy Tripp (2015) Label: Merge // Genre: Rock/Folk // RIYL: PS Eliot, Sharon van Etten, Girlpool // Best Tracks: 2, 8, 11, 12 // Grade: A-
When “Air” was released back in January, it seemed to pick up right where Cerulean Salt left off: leading with a simple melody on electric guitar, Katie Crutchfield’s unmistakable voice, and captivating lyrics- vulnerable and powerful in turn. On first listen, “Air” feels like it’s building toward something. The addition of another guitar and some punchier snares before the second verse hints that Ivy Tripp might be moving toward a heavier, punk-inspired sound, in the vein of “Coast to Coast” or P.S. Eliot. But instead the chorus breaks through with something entirely new to Waxahatchee’s aesthetic: a synthesizer.
In the context of her first two records, the most exceptional part of Ivy Tripp is its heavy use of electronic instruments. This choice represents a dramatic departure from in the band’s established sound ($2 to someone who can point to a Waxahatchee song with a keyboard in it besides “Peace and Quiet.”) When it works, the new instruments add an exciting new depth to Crutchfield’s distinctive sound. The distorted organ on “Breathless” gives the opening track a rich, expansive quality, and the give-and-take between the stiff rhythm guitar and the playful keyboard on “Grey Hair” is another highlight. When it doesn’t work however, it leaves a few of the songs feeling either unsatisfying or just a little off. The minimalist, repetitive “Stale by Noon” borders on emptiness at times and the oft-sampled electronic beat of “La Loose” undercuts an otherwise well-structured song.
As with many of her earlier songs, both in and out of Waxahatchee, Crutchfield’s lyricism is her greatest strength. Introspective, meticulously constructed, and emotionally devastating, the songwriting on Ivy Tripp is some of her best work yet. Beginning with a distant barking dog and Crutchfield shuffling in her seat, “Summer of Love” has the aesthetic of a home recording and strongly recollects American Weekend. “I didn’t think, now I’m here / treading water without you,” she sings, considering the space between the moment of loss and self-reflection that comes with distance. Crutchfield returns to many of her common themes, like regret and romantic nostalgia, but with more nuance and self-awareness. “Half Moon” may be the best example of a song that exudes emotion without ever feeling self-indulgent.
“I invite myself in and I think I kissed you first
But this glimpse at the past, it is tattered and trite
Our love tastes like sugar but it pulls all the life out of me”
Overall, Ivy Tripp is a brilliant record. Some older fans may be turned off by the new directions Waxahatchee takes, but I suspect that just as many new ones will be drawn in because of them. Exploring new instruments and genres has always been one of Crutchfield’s defining characteristics- the jump she made to get this album is not nearly as great as the one it took to get from American Weekend to Cerulean Salt. When asked by Hunger TV to define the new album she described it as such: “…it’s not a rock record, it’s a Waxahatchee record.”
That’s the truth, and it’s what makes Ivy Tripp great.