It causes me some amount of pain to acknowledge that an album with a distinctly nineteen-nineties alternative rock sound is a throwback. My aged bones ache a touch more heartily at the mere thought of it. But here we are again, with Out in the Storm, the fourth album from Waxahatchee. It doesn’t pummel the nostalgia cluster of my cerebrum in quite the same way as its immediate predecessor, the fine Ivy Tripp, but there’s still a buzzy, ponderous guitar and backbeat sound that gives it a clear lineage to the days when grunge and grunge-adjacent music ruled the left end of the radio dial.
Where Ivy Tripp could feel a little depersonalized because of its sonic antecedents — not an echo so much as someone yelling back repeated words from across the canyon — Out in the Storm carries the weight of heavy truth. Katie Crutchfield, the main creative driver of Waxahatchee, has acknowledged that a romantic breakup fueled the songwriting, and the album has that trembling pain built into it. There’s less “If You See Her Say Hello” directness to the lyrics and more of a precise capturing of a heart-rattling feel, descents into misery and then emergence into a stronger sense of self, albeit not one that is basked in sunlight just yet.
The album’s opening track, “Never Been Wrong,” is appropriately the one that sounds the most like the Waxahatchee that Ivy Tripp fans will be seeking: a guitar sound that is rich and rough, keening vocals, and a bassline that takes its low groove churn straight from the Kim Deal fake book. It’s an ideal introduction, if only because of the intricate, enticing ways the remainder of the album diverges from the template it sets. The very next track, “8 Ball,” downshifts the power, and then “Silver” restores it, only to dress it up in the sort of candy coated dark pop that Tanya Donelly carries with her from project to project. After Crutchfield establishes who she is as an artist, she proceeds to rapidly, convincingly show all the range she has without that identity. The album never shocks with shifts to wildly divergent styles, but it offers a gratifying thesis on variety of musical thought within parameters.
There’s a soulful openness across the album, rendered to piercing effect on the tenderly questing “A Little More” and with a relaxed urgency on “Sparks Fly.” Compounding my sense of musically-complex confession, “Brass Beam” sounds to me like the product of a mystical land where Lucinda Williams fronted Guided By Voices. I keep circling back to the the somberly beautiful “Recite Remorse” as my touchstone. The track offers some of the most purposeful emotional fragility I’ve ever heard on a record, as if Crutchfield is transforming splintered vulnerability into steely strength within the bars of the song. “For a moment, I was not lost/ I was waiting for permission to take off,” Crutchfield sings, and it is devastating and inspiring all at the same time.
My summary of “Recite Remorse” works quite well for the entirety of Out in the Storm. It is album that asserts its staying power. It makes its point immediately and strongly, and then it resonates.