Waxahatchee is the latest project of Katie Crutchfield, formerly of P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana. While her prior bands’ output dealt in the cutoff-shorts type of DIY punk that’s the stock-in-trade of basements in small cities the world over, American Weekend, by contrast, consists mostly of Crutchfield and an acoustic guitar. The arrangements are sparse, and Crutchfield’s complete-sentence lyrics refer to eroded and half-formed relationships, getting personal and detail-oriented in a way that suggests she’s not making any of it up.
There’s always going to be a certain voyeurism in listening to a record like American Weekend. While it’s clear that Crutchfield is using these songs to work through some stuff, she’s doing it without the occasional archness that someone like Bill Callahan might use as a safety net, or falling back on a pop hook to cut the tension like she might have done in her other projects. American Weekend isn’t the easiest album to listen to, but its songs err on the side of relatability without getting too mopey or general.
“It’s morning,” sings Crutchfield in the album’s title track, “and we’re still in the same place.” She sounds nearly as surprised as she does dejected, and a large part of American Weekend’s appeal is Crutchfield’s ability to seem comfortable — or even a little amused — with the vagaries of relationships born out of the life of an itinerant musician. Those vagaries are the subject matter of nearly every song on American Weekend, and the album’s themes remain consistent enough that it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if it dealt primarily with one person. When taken all at once, though, American Weekend comes off as a survey of a life spent half-drunk and on tour, never being able to get close enough to some people, and getting too attached to others.
It’s true that the line “Being on the road all the time isn’t easy, but it is the life I chose” has been the topic of songwriters (particularly solo, acoustic songwriters) more or less since there were roads to be on and lives to choose from, but even those of us who rarely leave home can identify with the idea of being in a holding pattern. The songs are memorable, lean and haunting in the way that David Pajo’s vocal work as Papa M was, and they don’t aspire to be anything but retellings of Crutchfield’s experiences. Like those experiences, American Weekend is simple and melancholic; it’s difficult to imagine it in any other form.