Waxahatchee has come a long way from the fragile home recordings Katie Crutchfield produced for her breakup-themed debut, American Weekend. Her third LP under this moniker, Ivy Tripp, sees her sign to Merge Records and expand her sonic bedrock considerably. Opener “Breathless” alone makes even Crutchfield’s adventurous Cerulean Salt sound tame by comparison. It’s a track that is at once crowded and lonely, anchored by fuzz and synths while driven forward by Crutchfield’s unadorned, deadpan voice. Waxahatchee is rapidly becoming not just an alias but a full-fledged band, yet “Breathless” imagines a one-woman group. Instead of a collaborative effort, the percolating bass notes (redolent of the “Twin Peaks” theme) and shimmering organ perpetuate Crutchfield’s raw tape recordings while adding new dimensions to their seemingly limited potential.

“Breathless” is unusually long for a Waxahatchee track, but the remainder of the album slips back to the old two-minute standard. This is where Crutchfield is at her most comfortable, and it only makes her multivalent lyrical and musical achievements even denser. Crutchfield still has a knack for writing caustic songs about ex-lovers, and the compressed time frames turn each verse into crystalline metaphors for dead-end relationships and lingering bitterness. The indie rock stomp of “Under a Rock” is matched by the spittle in the lyrics, epitomized by the cutting “your ravenous, insatiable/ appetite for the expendable/ will leave you just as hollow as your requiem.” There are also moments of unvarnished vulnerability, as in the confession embedded within “La Loose” when Crutchfield sings “I know that I feel more than you do/ I selfishly want you here to stick to.”

Most impressively, Crutchfield marries the tone of these lyrics to simple but fleshed-out compositions that color the words in subtle ways. The train-whistle “ooh-oohs” in “La Loose,” for example, visualize the song’s complex sense of escape both with and from partners. “The Dirt” rides on a garage rock riff as the lyrics throw a boyfriend’s weasel words of reconciliation “off the nearest cliff,” and the simplicity of the structure combines with Crutchfield’s one-line self-summary (“I’m a basement brimming with nothing great”) in the most poetic feat of neo-garage this side of Deerhunter’s Monomania. Closer “Bonfire” juxtaposes its tale of two heartbroken, easily wounded strangers discovering the possibility of each other with a halting bass riff that cuts through a trebly fuzz of clouded-head guitars, like a heartbeat that gives away its excitement before the person even realizes that someone is breaking through their conceited fog.

As is often the case for indie acts that start to break, Waxahatchee also adds a degree of self-reflection to Ivy Tripp, outside the usual navel-gazing over romantic travails. “Grey Hair” could be Crutchfield’s acknowledgment that she is rapidly approaching the indie big leagues, and it’s hard not to read a certain braggadocio in lines like “maybe American kids will start a craze.” But the cadence of Crutchfield’s delivery can also dispel bravado with its emotional opposite, as when the defiant “wait and see me become” is revealed suddenly to be only half the sentence, followed up with “…a candle, precarious psychically among the ill at ease”. In an instant, self-confidence becomes pervasive self-doubt, and just as it seemed you could get a handle on the artist, she slips right out of your grasp, using her brief verses as a means of maintaining mystery.

If the move to the legendary Merge means that Waxahatchee has made it, Ivy Tripp always tempers its largest moments with reminders of the human being that Crutchfield is. “Stale by Noon” displays both idyll and idle, its vague lyrics about “torturing the afternoon” and everything from drifting around the backwoods of Crutchfield’s native Alabama to Facebook-creeping potential interests. It’s undeniable that Crutchfield stands at a crossroads; having just come off a stark solo tour opening for childhood hero Jenny Lewis, she now heads back out with enough guitarists in tow to capably perform “Freebird” for hecklers. Ivy Tripp is not a radical departure, but it is nonetheless another significant sign of growth for Crutchfield’s project, which no longer seems like a revealing diversion, but one of the most exciting acts in indie today.

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