Katie Crutchfield is no stranger to DIY prolificacy.
Like many indie stars who came to prominence in the early 2010s, Katie Crutchfield is no stranger to DIY prolificacy. Racking up a host of lo-fi recordings and side projects as she established her Waxahatchee project, Crutchfield has gradually introduced some of her older, obscure recordings to fans alongside her steady diet of new material. Great Thunder, an EP of slightly reworked songs from her briefly active side band of the same name, offers six vault cuts intended to dig out some of Crutchfield’s more sharply written ancillary material. The result is a pleasing enough stopgap in Waxahatchee’s release schedule, and a reminder that the artist was penning vulnerable, piercingly honest lyrics from the start.
Much of the EP consists of little more than Crutchfield playing piano and singing, leaving little distraction from her songwriting skills. “Singer’s No Star” contains such simple, brokenhearted profundities as “We get comfortable with our detachment to our oldest friends/And you got me here where I’m left alone/I’m not the only thing you ever left,” cutting right to the core of a sense of dejection while leaving just enough unsaid to compound the pervasive regret. The track’s handful of verses might as well be an epic compared to the spartan assembly of some other songs here. “You Left Me with an Ocean” consists only of a single verse centered on the despondent imagery embedded within the title. “Chapel of Pines” strips away even this level of detail, quickly moving through a verse of vague pleas before arriving at a repeated refrain of “Will you go?” that updates the original song’s Would you go?” for added tragedy and urgency.
As sharp as these lyrics are, there’s something mildly pointless to this exercise. Whereas acts like Car Seat Headrest have used resuscitative efforts on old, lo-fi material to expand on arrangements and wed early, self-recorded cleverness with a developed sense of composition to produce what sound like completed versions, Crutchfield simply blows the dust off of some less than pristine tracks. Her updates are not page-one rewrites but minor editorial adjustments, altering a word here and there and, if anything, paring down already simple compositions to bare-bones instrumentation. That four of the EP’s six tracks offer accompaniment no more complicated than simple piano and acoustic guitar riffs actually represents a step backward from some of the original iterations. It’s hardly revelatory to hear lyrics that were never that obscure freed of their modest hiss, and a reissue of Great Thunder’s Groovy Kinda Love could have looked back without giving the false impression of new work.
A noteworthy and bold exception to this static quality comes in the final two songs, which offer richer arrangements that enhance the beauty of Crutchfield’s writing. The bouncier guitar riff on “Slow You Down” feels ripe for actual live performance where the guitar elsewhere sounds more like a polished home demo, making it all the easier to sing along with the short, hopeful lyrics. Best of all is closer “Takes So Much,” an emotionally raw ballad in which Crutchfield adds micropauses throughout to give the impression of trying to hold herself together as she sings. Though still simply performed, the artist finds small ways to convey the desperation and sorrow in her lyrics. “I say you will hit the bottom harder each time” she sings, punctuating certain syllables with spikes of emotion. And when she arrives at the refrain of “Take it out on me baby,” Crutchfield nearly loses all resolve and collapses with each repetition. It’s harrowing stuff, and the best (and only) case for the EP not as an act of treading water but a reaffirmation of Crutchfield’s innate songwriting maturity. It’s the one song that truly looks forward rather than backward, unexpectedly making one eager to see what the artist releases next.