In the past angst has always been the preserve of the youthful. Loaded with a splash of unrequited first love, a healthy dose of your hormones being all over the shop and a general feeling that the world was conspiring against you, teenagers everywhere took to their bedrooms and garages and made big, honest, emotional music that made it clear that being young was hard, and painful and not a whole heap of fun. People would flock to concerts to see people who knew what it was like to be rejected by the pretty girl at school and not feel like you fit in with the football playing crowd. Maybe it’s just us, but lately angst seems to ageing.
The new angst revolution seems to be coming from the people in their mid-20s, they’re not upset because of unrequited love, they’re watching their relationships crumble as reality bites. They’re not mad at mum & dad for not letting them go out, they’re angry at the governments who stop them being able to have a house to stay in. They’re not worried about what people think of them, they’re worried about jobs and paying the rent. They’re the people who’ve grown up and realised that the world is hard, and there’s real problems to be dealt with.
Bands like Trust Fund, Alvvays and NRVS LVRS have grown up and got over the malaise of youth, but have found the adult world a place that is more difficult, unfair and harsh than even their teenage worst nightmares. Like the dawn of Punk Rock or Riot Grrrl in the past, we’re now seeing bands who look at the world and say this isn’t how we want it to be. The malaise of life for the 20-something generation is becoming reflected by the music people are making, and as ever with great suffering, comes great art.
Katie Crutchfield has been making music under the pseudonym Waxahatchee for five years now. The name Waxahatchee comes from a creek in her native Alabama where she, and her sister Alison grew up. The rural nature of their youth has unquestionably shaped their choices of career. Growing up without the internet and away from the touring circuit of most bands, they were forced to create their own music scene. The sisters formed the cult punk band PS Elliot and released two well received album on Salinas Record, they only split in 2011 when the two sisters decided for both creative and logistical reasons to disband. Alison would go on to pursue the punk-route in the Swearin’ whilst Katie would take her music in a completely different direction.
Following a move to Philadelphia, Katie began to record songs in her bedroom, stripped down, largely Indie-Folk records centred primarily around just her voice and an acoustic guitar; it was a real departure from her previous output and these recordings would go on to form the basis of the debut Waxahatchee album, American Weekend. Her breakthrough second album Cerulean Salt would see a more polished, and full sound, whilst maintaining the same approachable feel of her previous records: it would see her sign to Wichita Records over here in the UK, and following it’s success in the US she penned a deal with Merge Records to release her third album, Ivy Tripp.
What’s perhaps most impressive about Ivy Tripp, is that for all the progress in sound that comes naturally with a bigger budget and songwriting maturity, this record remains remarkably accessible. Katie has highlighted the influence of both Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens on this record and there’s certainly some of the pop-tinged, folk about her output, whilst in places the drum-machines and keyboard backing recalls Leonard Cohen in the 1980’s, only less cheesy.
At time she steps away from the largely guitar based efforts that have defined her career to date. Dabbling with atmospheric low end organs on Breathless, infusing La Loose with drum machines and whirling 1980’s synth parts whilst closing track Bonfire sounds not unlike Katie stepping in for Ian Curtis on a lost Joy Division track. Elsewhere she makes the sensible decision not to abandon the sound that won her over a devoted fan base in the first place, the garage rock of Under A Rock, the delightful Rhodes-piano ballad, Stale By Noon and the paired back lonesome guitar and vocal sound of the excellent Blue, all show a gentle reimagining of her sound rather than a full blown revolution.
Lyrically too there’s a feeling of maturity and progress. Whilst Katie’s previous work reflected largely on the problems of growing up, the heartache, mistakes and romance of youth, here we find her older and more reflective, more realistic and more weary. Reflecting on the albums title, Ivy Tripp, Katie has described it as the feeling of the directionless progress of the post baby-boomer generation, as opposed to the linear progress of their parents generation. This feeling of insecurity and instability are explored throughout the album, and it feels like they were written by a songwriter well aware that we live in a time of shifting sands, where we are unable to ever feel entirely comfortable with what we have. On Breathless, she tellingly notes “I’m not trying to have it all” and that acceptance of reality is a key theme to her writing. Throughout the album there’s a feeling of impermanence, on La Loose, Katie notes, “I’ll try to preserve the routine” and tells a partner, “you can lean on me” but ends with a chilling, “for now” whilst on Stale By Noon she notes, “I can imitate some kind of love, or I could see it for what it is and stop kidding myself” again reflecting on the feelings of insecurity and impermanence.
Even the songs dealing with relationships, the strummed acoustics of Summer Of Love, or the heartbreaking piano ballad Half Moon, are less idealistic, more reasoned, less romantic. On the former we find Katie talking of the past, “the summer of love was a photo of us” she recalls, but where once this look at the past would find her drowning without you, now she’s, “treading water.” Whilst on Half Moon, she looks back on a past relationship she slipped back into, “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”. Even in the pain there’s a feeling of acceptance, the feeling that what didn’t work in the past is still doomed to fail in the present, she notes, “the pain that you make never dies” but you’re left not with a feeling of anguish but of reality.
Katie has spoke of a feeling that the current interest in her work could all collapse, and that it would be ok, that she could happily go back to the days of house shows and scraping a living, but with a record this good, don’t expect Waxahatchee to be on insecure ground for long, there’s little doubt here, she’s going to be a star!
Ivy Tripp is out now on Wichita Records with Merge releasing it in the USA. Waxahatchee tour the UK in June, followed by a set at Greenman Festival in August.