Waxahatchee’ Great Thunder is too damp to cause a storm

Great ThunderWhat a crushing feeling it is to put on a new record by a beloved artist only to find that you’ve been saddled with the 'change of direction' EP. Okay, fine. Let’s treat Great Thunder at face value. We like Waxahatchee and her power-pop ways, so we'll give Katie Crutchfield the benefit of the doubt. Apparently, this project dates back to around the time she was recording Cerulean Salt in 2013, and Ivy Tripp in 2015 – the albums that first alerted us to her formidable presence.

Inevitably Great Thunder is described as a return to her folk roots. The pared-down "American Weekend" is probably a useful point of reference. In the 2012 release, however, you can very much hear the germ of what was to follow. On the other hand, this EP slots in less comfortably with the rest of her oeuvre.

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Here’s the issue: electric guitars played a pivotal role in expressing emotional power in Crutchfield’s previous records. They echoed and amplified the personal stories and intimate feelings in the words, and elevated them to feel huge and significant. That’s one of popular music’s most important jobs - turning vulnerability into power.

The piano-dominated Great Thunder is a bit plodding and ordinary in comparison, probably not helped by the unvaried, sluggish compositions. While Crutchfield’s voice is as raw and rich as ever, without the usual indie rock counterbalance, it often sounds like it’d fill a wedding smorgasbord of ham sandwiches.

What doesn’t help is lyrical commonplaces like a crackle-voiced, “Take it out on me, baby” or monstrosities like, “You can’t say goodbye, you ripped out its lungs, and you let it die.” Would they be less grating secreted into the assured bombast of Out in the Storm? Perhaps.

Guitar-led “Chapel of Pines” is nice though, the sparseness rendering the single haunting rather than pedestrian. There’s a very satisfying melancholic chord sequence in opener “Singers” too, coupled with a wonderfully emotive “shoop-a-do”. Ultimately though, this has a touch of the vanity EP about it.

Release: 7th September 2018, Merge Records

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