This much I know for sure: Waxahatchee (real name: Katie Crutchfield) keeps Ivy Tripp simple, straightforward, and short.
Like, really short. Can you even remember the last time you made it through thirteen (non-punk) songs in less than forty minutes?
Me neither. That said – the brevity that reigns over her third album (and first with Merge Records) isn’t immediately obvious. Opening track “Breathless” nears five minutes, every one of them wondrous. The repeated riff resembles a call to prayer, as resonant and encompassing as chimes echoing through a cathedral. She later returns to this meditative space on the equally beautiful album close “Bonfire,” but with more conviction than before. Pick either vantage point – much of Ivy Tripp’s strength lies in its bookends.
The path she traverses between said bookends amounts to mixed results but is not without its gems. She dives into sweet but crunchy guitar on “Under A Rock”, where she declares, “You’re someone else’s mess tonight,” and means it. She keeps the guitars close throughout the entire album; even the sugary synth cut “La Loose” features a steady soft rock bassline. She then takes a bite out of her own saccharine tendencies by kicking through “The Dirt” with some serious teen punk attitude. Indie folk suffers from its reputation as the musical equivalent of eating cotton candy while riding a horse, so Waxahatchee’s refusal to play nice at all times seems both wise and genre-aware.
Her simple melodies leave space for the lyrics to swirl their way through the album. Ask her about the undesirable elements of loving while human: emotional rollercoasters, the wrong one you keep coming back to, inevitable and crippling breakups. “Our love tastes like sugar / But it pulls all the life out of me,” she mourns during tender piano ballad “Half Moon”. Later on “<”, outward anger collides with intense self-loathing as she spits, “You’re less than me / I am nothing,” over crashing drums and a twanging guitar.
Ivy Tripp sounds tailor-made to fill a small venue with its gorgeous honesty, but the thrilling prospect of hearing these songs live does little to erase the record’s unfortunate production. Whether it is burying Waxahatchee’s vocals or pushing the already mediocre drums several levels too high, the production quickly develops a habit of deflating otherwise enjoyable songs.
As for the songs themselves, Ivy Tripp falls victim to its own consistency more than once. The common thread runs too deep on “Stale by Noon”, which sounds so in line with the rest of the album you forget it within minutes. Her strict adherence to the straightforward makes the record easy to comprehend and easy to like, but it also creates a soundscape where the songs blend together then fade away. These short songs are to be taken in small doses; the lines dividing them blur when consumed as a whole.
So yes, listen to this album. And yes, come back for seconds, but only a little at a time. Ivy Tripp brims with sincerity, emotion, and beauty. All three qualities are best appreciated when the tracks containing them stand alone.