March 25, 2024

On 'Tigers Blood', Waxahatchee's New Life Blooms

On 'Tigers Blood', Waxahatchee's New Life Blooms

It’s a special thing when a record arrives with a sense of timelessness and a feeling that the songs have always somehow existed in the echelon of popular music. Katie Crutchfield was already a decade into her career recording as Waxahatchee upon the release of 2020’s Saint Cloud, a sonic rebirth, pivoting from indie rock to more country inflected tunes. Her sobriety, coupled with the stewardship of the recording by Brad Cook, brought a new clarity in songwriting and sound that immediately became the band’s new high water mark. That is until now. If Saint Cloud was a rebirth, Tigers Blood is the sound of that new life well lived.

The sixth album under the Waxahatchee moniker moves the goalposts yet again - it’s an artist that’s completely hit her stride and making something that sounds less like a band and something more like transcendence. These songs feel like standards, imbued with a sense of authenticity that has been attempted to be manufactured and commodified by so many artists who never truly get it right. Here, everything feels like it’s been earned.

“3 Sisters” is a beautiful blend of harmony and organ before delving into a propulsive stomp, while “Ice Cold” blends twangy guitars with Crutchfield’s soaring vocals. It sounds like a band having a great time playing in a room together. The personnel on this record might have something to do with that.

MJ Lenderman, known both for his own recordings and as the guitarist of Wednesday, plays rhythm guitar on the record as well as harmonies on several tracks, while Spencer Tweedy shows up on drums and percussion. Brad Cook handles bass and a few other instruments while Brad’s brother, Phil, contributes banjo, organ and piano. There truly is no greater example of the marriage of these elements than on Crutchfield’s duet with Lenderman, “Right Back to It”.

Cook’s banjo intertwines beautifully with Lenderman’s guitars while Tweedy’s backbeat binds it together. Then Crutchfield’s voice sails in: “Photograph of us/In a spotlight/On a hot night/I was drifting in and out..” and then you’re right in the middle of a scene you can almost reach out and touch. Crutchfield and Lenderman sing the next lines together, blending beautifully. her falsetto over his sleepy drawl - “I've been yours for so long/We come right back to it/I let my mind run wild/Don't know why I do it/But you just settle in/Like a song with no end If I can keep up/We'll get right back to it”. It’s easily one of the best songs of the year, if not this young decade.

“Burns Out at Midnight” is a killer blend of southern fried slow burn harmonica and clodding chords, “Bored” is an excellent rave-up rocker with a soaring chorus. “Lone Star Lake” is a beautiful loping ballad that will be covered by another artist in no time flat. These songs simply are just so full-bodied and formed that it’s impossible to believe that they are new to 2024.

The record’s final three songs - the astonishing acoustic “365”, the easy beat of “The Wolves” and the rousing, communal title track really deliver the message of Tigers Blood. Waxahatchee, or Katie Crutchfield is at that sweet stage that so many of us hope and aspire to, in that liminal middle stage, where it can all just feel okay, the challenges are still challenges but hinge a little less on blowing it all up. “You know I stay in a hurry, babe/I miss a lot of good things,” she sings on a verse of “The Wolves”. Not on Tigers Blood. They’re all right here, perfectly captured and documented to enjoy for all time.

Tigers Blood is out now on ANTI-.