Waxahatchee Credit: Courtesy of Merge Records

Katie Crutchfield has taken a huge step forward. The sound of her new album, Saint Cloud (Merge), her fifth under the Waxahatchee name, is a far cry from the ragged glory of her previous records, trading in bombast for slick, streamlined introspection. Crutchfield started Waxahatchee as an acoustic solo project shortly after the dissolution of her previous band, P.S. Eliot (which also featured her twin Allison, later of the band Swearin’). The fractured, confessional bedroom emo on her debut as Waxahatchee, American Weekend, remains one of the saddest, most beautiful collections of heart-on-the-sleeve songs ever put to tape. By the release of 2013’s Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee had grown to a full band, and while the music was louder this time around, it still felt raw and exposed. With each subsequent album, Crutchfield’s sound grew bigger as her songwriting grew even better. It was an amazing progression to witness. The 2017 record Out in the Storm felt almost as over-the-top as Dinosaur Jr., barreling forward with guitars soaring; even the most heartbreaking numbers conveyed the punk energy and ethos behind the music. That’s why I find myself feeling a bit let down with Saint Cloud. Crutchfield can still write a chorus that will bring a tear to your eye, but the sound of the songs feels very safe and quaint. But while the album might not seem as punk as its predecessors, its musical shifts come from a place of positivity and personal growth—Crutchfield recently got sober, and many of her lyrics here explore this change.   v