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Good Music Is The Best Revenge On Waxahatchee's 'Out In The Storm'

TERRY GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of "Out In The Storm," the fourth album by Katie Crutchfield, who performs under the name Waxahatchee after a creek in Alabama. She said the album is about a time when she wasn't honest with herself.


WAXAHATCHEE: (Singing) I stare at myself. The whole world keeps turning. I went out in the storm, thought I felt the house burning.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The kiss on my lips starts to feel unfamiliar, Katie Crutchfield sings on "Silver," the first single from this new Waxahatchee album, "Out In The Storm." The way in which affection starts to feel like something rare, one definite sign that a relationship is crumbling, is what Crutchfield wants to get at here. Something else she wants to do? Crank up the volume and play loud, fast guitars along with another musician, Katie Harkin. It's some of the most fierce music ever heard on a Waxahatchee collection. Similarly passionate and noisy in a different way is this song, "Sparks Fly."


WAXAHATCHEE: (Singing) I take it back. I was never alone. My censored thoughts, mild and monotome. I took a train to Berlin today. When I called last night, you felt so far away. Tonight, I'll laugh, I say whatever I want. Stay in the bar till the sun comes up. And I see myself through my sister's eyes. I'm a live wire, electrified. Sparks fly. Sparks fly.

TUCKER: On that song, sparks aren't the only thing flying. Crutchfield's voice soars across roughly strummed guitar chords, her voice seeming to emerge from a dark place into the light. There's a lot of energy on this album that is released with pinpoint precision, a lot of thoughts articulated with emotional exactness. Crutchfield's examination of a now-dead relationship is like an autopsy. She cuts into it, pokes and prods, pointing out weaknesses, wounds, lacerations and where some healing has occurred.


WAXAHATCHEE: (Singing) My objective was blind. You were always looking for a fight. An invisible race, we'll be in it till one of us dies. You went back in time today expecting to do the same. I can't get away. I can't get away. I can't get away.

TUCKER: Crutchfield uses the Waxahatchee name to cover a variety of musical incarnations. She started out recording alone in her bedroom in Birmingham, Ala., and made subsequent albums with a variety of musicians, including one whom she seems to be addressing with such fury on the new album. On "Out In The Storm," her core band consists of four other women, including her twin sister Allison Crutchfield on keyboards and guitarist Katie Harkin, who's also performed with Sleater-Kinney. Together, they make good on the album title, creating crackling, stormy music.


WAXAHATCHEE: (Singing) I spent all my time learning how to defeat you at your game. It's embarrassing. I walk around like this is the last strike. I love being right, especially with you. Now I wake up early. I ruffle, I lie in wait. All your tragic fiction, I always take the bait. But the margin's gigantic. Am I happy or manic? Does it make you feel good to blend in with the wall? Everyone will hear me complain. Everyone will pity my pain.

TUCKER: I wouldn't want to be the guy on the receiving end of Katie Crutchfield's descriptions, some shouted, some murmured the course of these songs, these various accounts of someone who lets her down, who belittles her, who interrupts her when she's talking, who makes false demands. Yet for all these specifics, the music on this Waxahatchee album closes off the possibility of self-pity. There's a burning off of anger, leaving the happy realization that all of this stuff has ended up inspiring a lot of good music - the best revenge.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Waxahatchee's "Out In The Storm."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be actress and comedian Jessica Williams. As a "Daily Show" correspondent, Williams was known for her hilarious reports on racism, sexism and homophobia. She gives more personal takes on gender and race in the comedy podcast Two Dope Queens. Now she's starring in a new Netflix movie, a romantic comedy called "The Incredible Jessica James." I hope you'll join us.

I want to correct an error I made last Tuesday in an interview with journalist Joshua Green about his book "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, And The Storming Of The Presidency." I said that Bannon had said with pride that he created the alt-right. What Bannon was actually quoted as having said in July of last year, when he was still the chair of Breitbart media, is that Breitbart News is, quote, "the platform for the alt-right," unquote. And that quote is from a Mother Jones article from August 22, 2016.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.