There’s a distinctive sound to each Waxahatchee record that seems to match perfectly with the themes that pervade them. On American Weekend, Katie Crutchfield’s lone guitar strums and clipping vocals echoed the regret, confusion, and listlessness that characterized its songs of heartbreak. With Cerulean Salt, higher production quality and the inclusion of more instruments brought a directness to the varying emotions that she explored through her retrospective observations of people, places, and relationships. Ivy Tripp is a bit different, and she acknowledges it. It still feels indebted to the 90s artists that have always influenced her but it’s also surprisingly poppy and uses this new mode as a way to reframe her astute examinations of others and herself. In an interview with SPIN, Crutchfield stated that this is a record about the “directionlessness of people wandering through life, or trying to find things that make them happy without [conforming to] the structure generations behind us have had”. It seems only natural then that Ivy Tripp finds her expanding her sound palette while sounding more confident than ever.
And it shows immediately. If there’s anything you can expect from a Waxahatchee record, it’s a confrontation of the interpersonal and how that affects oneself. Consequently, it’s not surprising that an album about trying to be happy starts with a song that declares “If I was foolish I would chase a feeling I long age let fade”. Ivy Tripp is Crutchfield at her most self-assured, and it’s even more obvious as the song closes with the proclamation of “I’m not trying to have it all” over a choir of her own coos and la’s. And then anchored by synth pads, a drum machine, and a bouncing bassline, the chipper “La Loose” is just as self-aware. “I don’t hoard faith in us […] I selfishly want you here to stick to” sings Crutchfield. It’s equal parts wry and sincere, using the music to evoke the ostensible bliss of a relationship that’s foreseeably temporary but sustained by a desire for comfort. But the “I’ll try to preserve the routine” of its chorus gets flipped upright by the confessional ”I can imitate some kind of love, or I could see it for what it is and stop kidding myself” in the mellow, keyboard-driven “Stale By Noon”. These songs may be about being directionless but she’s making the most of every part of the journey, doing what she thinks is best for her at any given moment.
There may be a lot of ground covered musically on Ivy Tripp but Crutchfield’s songwriting always shines through. When she’s not making the catchiest songs of her career on “Poison” and “The Dirt”, she’s going back to her relatively simple roots on “Summer of Love” and “Half Moon” with equal nuance. The latter is one of her most somber songs to date, filled with lyrics that are piercing in their candor (“our love tastes like sugar but it pulls all the life out of me”). And they’re made even more devastating from the straightforward piano chords they’re sung over, its consistent rhythm only giving greater emphasis to the dismal state of things. Centerpiece “Air” finds Crutchfield continuing to evaluate her relationships—”I left you out like a carton of milk […] but I wanted you still” she sings in the verse, but all of the tension that’s built up culminates in the final chorus’ ”you were patiently giving me everything that I will never need”. The warm synths and periodic hits of the snare drum work to release that tension but they also reflect the peace of mind that she has by the end of the song. And perhaps most effective is the final half of “Less Than”. She calmly states “you’re less than me, I am nothing” as multiple drums are layered on top of each other in a controlled chaos. It’s a nice representation of who she is throughout the entire record but especially this song; she’s constantly acknowledging her imperfect and messy self but bold enough to confront the things that cause her pain.
Crutchfield’s always had a penchant for recording albums in familiar spaces—her parent’s isolated Alabama lake house for American Weekend, the basement of her home (at the time) in Philadelphia for Cerulean Salt, her new house in Long Island for Ivy Tripp—and it seems to reflect the personal nature of her recordings. Ivy Tripp may be Crutchfield’s first record on Merge, and she’s even stated that it’s the “first record as this person that I am now”, but it’s just as intimate and thoughtful as anything she’s done before.