Cerulean Salt, Katie Crutchfield’s second album under the Waxahatchee moniker in as many years, is a far more ambitious and well-rounded album than its predecessor. With higher production values and some assistance from members of literal sister band Swearin’, Crutchfield has created a truly great pop-rock record.
American Weekend had a lo-fi charm to it, which is to say that it sounded like someone recorded it on a mobile phone while standing across the street. While Cerulean Salt is hardly a Butch Vig production, it sounds much clearer and crisper, allowing for each instrument to shine on its own. It's an attribute that admittedly wasn’t really necessary on its predecessor, as it merely featured Crutchfield and an acoustic guitar. There are some great solo Crutchfield moments on Cerulean Salt, such as opener “Hollow Bedroom.” The acoustic guitar has been replaced with a slightly buzzy electric, and a few of the vocals appear to have been multi-tracked, but tracks like this and “Tangled Envisioning” carry the spirit of that earlier work.
The most compelling songs on Cerulean Salt benefit from the full band treatment, however. Swearin’ members Keith Spencer and Kyle Gilbride add an urgency to several tracks that perhaps wouldn’t hit as hard had they been recorded as solo compositions. “Coast To Coast” has a punky energy that veers closer to their primary band, and “Misery Over Dispute” falls firmly in grunge territory. This additional instrumentation allows for greater stylistic variation. “Lips and Limbs” has a breezy, almost Latin vibe.
Crutchfield has had a gift for making heartache sound beautiful stretching back to her P.S. Eliot days. Her lyrics here are as honest and vulnerable as ever. “Blue Pt. II” opens with the lines “If you think that I’ll wait forever you were right and, I’ll give you everything you wanted if I can." While those lyrics may play fast and loose with past and present tense, they still cut deep. The melodies present on Cerulean Salt are also as haunting as any Crutchfield has penned to date. “Dixie Cups and Jars” in particular will stay firmly implanted in the listener's head long after the stop button has been pressed.
While American Weekend had clear standouts in tracks like “Be Good” and “Bathtub,” Cerulean Salt manages to maintain a consistently high quality throughout. Songs that aren't instantly catchy often have low replay value, but that does not seem to be the case here. Cerulean Salt is the work of an extremely talented and prolific young songwriter, with a little help from her friends, which will warrant many spins in the present and shows nothing but promise for the future.