Music Reviews
Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee Ivy Tripp

(Merge) Rating - 5/10

I keep thinking about this one post on Tumblr which has clocked up like a quarter-million notes, which takes a lyric from Grass Stain from Waxahatchee's no-fi solo acoustic debut, American Weekend, and gives it the all-caps italicised Jenny Holzer treatment - because it seems at odds with the understated presentation of Katie Crutchfield's music but totally in keeping with the righteousness of her songs (to quote the same song, “I don't care / If I'm too young to be unhappy”). On some level, Waxahatchee is a feminist statement about feeling entitled to her feelings, not having to be ashamed of them, and it's also the reason she's so important to a lot of people.

Ivy Tripp, her third record, sounds very different to that debut, not just for its studio fidelity (which doesn't mar its decidedly homespun presentation) but because of a shift in Katie Crutchfield's songwriting process, from flowing and beautifully enjambed to a terser, more segmented lyrical and melodic style – all of which make it very similar in tone to Cerulean Salt, her breakout record. Many of the riffs are discrete blocks of sound, no run-on into the next repetition, giving it a weirdly stilted quality. I feel like this type of songwriting is generally endemic of a kind of creative block; it can sound almost laborious in its structural directness mixed with its lyrical opacity. Any authoritative reviewer-voice is not going to be able to fully explain the difference between one song being engaging and another perplexing; but what I hear on Ivy Tripp is mostly the latter.

Not that it doesn't have its moments – the punchier songs with the harmonised choruses and catchy, simple guitar riffs would've fitted comfortably on 90s indie-rock college radio - Under A Rock, Poison, and The Dirt hit a sweet spot of melancholy-tinged summer-jam fare, reminiscent of un-fuzzed iterations of her (even more palpably nostalgic) powerchord-driven noise-pop with her twin sister Alison (of Swearin') in PS Eliot and Bad Banana.

But when the songs are slower it can be painstaking. Stale By Noon uses an almost infuriatingly basic keyboard line as its sole instrumental part, and by the time Crutchfield repeats the final line, “I get lost looking up”, confusing in its vague simplicity, the song hasn't developed at all. It helps that she keeps it a lot briefer than she could've; as with Cerulean Salt, it's a very quick listen (in the spirit of her forbears like Guided By Voices and The Mountain Goats, three verses would be too much). Nobody expects for any musical wheels to be reinvented with a Waxahatchee album, but this never mattered when the songs were more idiosyncratic; if the arrangements had space for word-painting, Ivy Tripp would have been far more memorable.

Air begins with more turgid rhythmic simplicity, but by the time it's come into its own it yields one of the record's most poignant moments – and also its most lovingly-produced, with the aid of a swelling keyboard swathe, sonically opening out for the lines “And you were patiently giving me all that I will never need” - a line reflective of Crutchfield's themes of interpersonal ambiguity, breakups, moving on. Most of the tracks feel like breakup songs, but her lyrics use such broad strokes that that these are songs about relationships is more implied by her earnest delivery and constant use of second-person in an almost speculative sense.

What I mean by that is that most of the lyrics concern the narrator's relation to the second-person addressee, but situations and details are never defined; the record is a tangle of metaphorical riddles, never clichéd but never perspicacious either – one such metaphor that sticks out is on < - “There's not much there / I reveal more and more / Sculpting the bust / Of a man I'll forever ignore” - which sounds more like it's about her songwriting process than about a specific relationship. The song ends with a salvo of arrhythic drums, a musically uncharacteristic disruptive gesture, more instances of which would have been welcomed.

There's a lot that keeps me from loving this record, but it's hard not to really root for Katie Crutchfield as a songwriter and general force for good in the universe. It's just that I no longer relate to whoever is at the centre of this album; not in the way that American Weekend sounds like the kind of record that will save people's lives with its sheer poetic empathy. Which is to say she's burdened by high expectations, and that she's capable of something more special.