By Reyan Ali
8:45 AM EST, January 30, 2013
w/ Kindred Queer and Chris Cappello. $8, 7 p.m., Feb. 6. People's Arts Collective of New Haven, 212 College St., New Haven, manicproductions.org
For most lyricists, the mirror is never particularly cruel. Swarms of humans writing songs are into ideas of self-analysis and self-contextualizing, but a scant number are willing to say, "Hey, you. Yes, you. You can be awful sometimes. Just horrible."
Katie Crutchfield calmly takes the opposite route. The Birmingham, Ala.-cultivated and now Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter behind Waxahatchee uses 2011's American Weekend, her one-woman acoustic project's insidiously engaging debut, to explore several shadows and unflattering angles. After setting her scenes with scattered details — opener "Catfish," for one, includes imagery of bare feet, moonshine, whiskey and Sam Cooke — she digs into how unstable, conflicted, earnest and honest she is (i.e., very on all accounts). As she burns others through dysfunctional relationships that never undergo repair, she acknowledges that she will be burnt, too — and she deserves it. In "Bathtub," she sings, "I contemplate my ruined fate/Someone will hurt me so bad one day" as if it's a foregone finale. Waxahatchee's songs do spare shimmers of hope and nostalgic joy, but it's a fading kind of light.
Though just 24 years old, Crutchfield has been at this whole music deal for a while now. As a 14-year-old freshly smitten with female-heavy contemporary indie rock like Rilo Kiley and Cat Power, she formed an indie-folky outfit called the Ackleys with her twin sister Allison (who, by the by, still maintains various projects of her own, including the band Swearin'). The Crutchfields earned their chops through DIY shows and bills with punk acts, weaving their lives through various bands — P.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, the current Great Thunder — and keeping music as a major priority even though Katie didn't originally have any career-oriented plans. "I honestly don't think that I have thought of the long run that much at all," she says. "[It] wasn't until 2012 did I actually think, 'Oh, you know, if I do this and I do that, maybe I can make a sustainable living making music.' That is totally a new idea in my life."
After spending a solid chunk of time running her indie pop band P.S. Eliot and then experiencing power struggles and ego clashes because of the control she exerted, she started a project of her own that skirted those issues of compromise and control. She took her current pursuit's name from Waxahatchee Creek in Alabama — a place where Crutchfield began writing material for this band. Her simple setup on Weekend utilizes a mic, a guitar, a digital 8-track recorder and little else. Distortion and echo are key to her lo-fi sound, adding to its vulnerable, raw sensibility. After spending so much time roaming the thicket of Weekend alone, its followup — Cerulean Salt, due in March — has her collaborating with a full band. This will be a record less concerned with a romantic relationship gone awry and more about "the actual concept of childhood and the fact that you reach a certain age where you realize that that part of your life and that innocence is lost and over," which sounds like ripe material for Waxahatchee's style.
Even with the gloom that fills her music and colors it with so much grayscale character, Crutchfield doesn't speak like someone who is particularly interested in exalting the grim. These songs are just reflections of what she's feeling like at the times she writes them, she notes. "I have a pretty normal life. I deal with things just like everybody else does with things," she says. "It's not like a thing where I try to pull the sadness out of myself for my music. It's there just like it's in everybody."
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