Saturday, October 18, 2014

Waxahatchee - "American Weekend" (LP Review)

"Crave, desolate, you dive in, we follow along.
I contrive you with whiskey and Sam Cooke songs
and we lay on our backs, soaking wet
below a static TV set.
Conversation flows, counting shooting stars and catfish,
but I'll never make a wish."

After I don't know how many listens, I still get chills from the opening lines to "Catfish", the first song on Waxahatchee's debut LP "American Weekend".  I did not discover Waxahatchee until the release of the release of "Cerulean Salt" a year later, and then made my way back to "American Weekend".  All the hipsters know the story by now, but here's the short version in case you don't: twins Katie & Allison Crutchfield were in the cleverly named (but terminally underground) band P.S. Eliot.  When they broke up in 2011, Allison formed Swearin', and Katie recorded as Waxahatchee during an extended retreat to her parent's lake house on Waxahatchee Creek, essentially off the grid and far away from everything. 

The result is an intimate, confessional, lo-fi masterpiece.  I  know I've overused the reference to Liz Phair's "Girlysound" tapes, but in this case the reference is unavoidable (and I'm not the only one, see this Pitchfork review).  (I suppose I could also compare it to the "Texas Campfire Tapes", but those references have gone out of style now that Michelle Shocked is a self-hating traitor.)  I know the idea of a solo, acoustic, coffee house, autobiographical, neo-hippie, female folk singer is a 3rd stage Lilith Fair cliche, but trust me: Katie's different.  There is a unpretentious, wrenching, earnest, piercing sincerity that transcends the sparse, almost harsh recording.  Where Liz channeled a battle-of-the-sexes anger borrowed from early Pat Benatar, the villain in Katie's songs is Katie: paralyzed with self-doubt and a millennial-flavored self-absorption.  Despite this, and the fact that I'm nearly old enough to be her father, the music connects with me, in part because Katie's provided a universal soundtrack for awkward, early 20s relationships (e.g., I'd like to imagine a particular college relationship-but-not-quite-girlfriend addressing me in the manner of "Bathtub" and "Grass Stain").

But it's not just romantic relationships that are the subject of Katie's songs.  "Rose, 1956" is her attempt to fathom the difference in her reality and that of her grandmother (?):
Sharp hangover, it is Christmas Eve.
It fades and evaporates passing the trains and lakes and trees.
Your breaths are short and urgent and it is unsettling.
Cause you got married when you were 15, 15.

Now I hide out from telephone wires at Waxahatchee Creek.
Your body, weak from smoke and tar and subsequent disease.
You got married when you were 15, 15.
More insight about Katie and Waxahatchee can be found in this interview with Pitchfork.  I can say more about this LP, but then it would be more about me and less about Katie/Waxahatchee.

Since there are no bad song on the LP and quite a few live versions on the web, I'm changing the format a bit:

Standout songs:
Final score: 9/10.  I reserve the right to adjust this upwards in the future.

And to close out the review, here are the closing lyrics to "Catfish".  As Danette pointed out, all of the songs "sweat" with subtle Southern cultural references.  Although not really the point of this song, it provides color in a way that only those familiar with sticky, Southern nights can appreciate:
We stick to our slow motion memory.
It's 1 in the morning and 90 degrees
and though now it is hovering darkly over me,
it'll look just like heaven when I get up and leave.
You're a ghost
and I can't breathe.

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