Rediscovered #4: American Weekend

by Dominic Woodcock

Katie Crutchfield, better known by her stage name, Waxahatchee, recorded her first solo album, American Weekend, at her parents’ house over the space of a week in January 2011. Previously, she had been playing music with her twin sister since their mid-teens, primarily in pop-punk duo, P. S. Eliot. Her sister, Alison (who now plays in Swearin’), was the only person to hear Katie’s recordings for the next year, until someone at Don Giovanni Records asked if P. S. Eliot had any new material. As the Crutchfield twins’ old group had tapered off, she offered up her solo album instead.

When Katie recorded the album back in 2011, she wrote each song and recorded it on the spot, meaning that every track on the album is the original version. Other than one or two flurries of added instrumentation, American Weekend comprises nothing more than Crutchfield’s breathy vocals and her clean guitar, both contorted by the lo-fi recording. Its form and its fruition result in a starkly intimate atmosphere that pervades the entire album, with each track feeling like a vignette of Cruchfield’s life and mind set.

Reflecting on American Weekend, the press about Waxahatchee might suggest that the album was more popular than it was in reality. Despite it being released in January 2012, it received little coverage until Waxahatchee’s follow-up, Cerulean Salt, came out in March 2013. That album, which moved away from her debut’s intimate feel by using a full band, arguably gained undue praise to make up for the fact that so many publications had slept on her debut.

The enchanting thing about American Weekend is that Katie Crutchfield somehow imbues the simplest melodies and lo-fi recording with intense beauty and devastation through her candid lyrics and her earnest delivery. Album highlight, Bathtub, exemplifies this, as she confides, “I ignored you all night and you don’t deserve it” before later admitting that she fears “Someone will hurt me so bad one day”. This, along with so many other lyrics on the album, depicts Crutchfield’s thick-skinned image before deconstructing it to reveal her vulnerability. Although American Weekend is such a low-key album in terms of its stripped-back sound, it feels monumental to listen to because of the intimate power of Crutchfield’s songs.

American Weekend’s tracks often feel like pages straight out of a diary, with confessions and truths abounding. Her wholehearted honesty unveils a juxtaposition of biting humour and devastating confessions, most starkly seen on Magic City Wholesale. The track portrays the typical teenage party that we know from American Pie and its ilk, but Crutchfield snarkily denigrates it as “formulated fun”. This line sits just after her telling confession that her and her friend feel like “fractions”, rather than complete humans.

Be Good stands out from the rest of the album, with its upbeat rhythm, jangly guitar, and a semblance of percussion with a tambourine. It touches down upon the lyrical themes of the album, but feels more like a structured song than the snapshots and tales which make up the majority of its tracks. As such, it is both a mission statement of American Weekend’s entire ethos, and yet completely different to anything else on the release.

American Weekend is a monumental piece of work that tackles typical youthful issues of late nights, drinking, and lost love. Although its creator is clearly strong-headed and ambitious in person, her debut album is an intensely vulnerable piece of work, as though she channelled her fears and emotions into an album in order to dispel them from her everyday life.