As Waxahatchee, Philadelphia songwriter Katie Crutchfield's work is born of a punk aesthetic but drawn from a place so personal and inward that even the most tossed-off lines feel confessional. After releasing the 2011 Waxahatchee debut, American Weekend, as a more homespun solo acoustic outing, Cerulean Salt finds Crutchfield joined by some supporting musicians, amping up the production values, but, above all, finding a far deeper voice for her songs. Musically, the tunes have the cloudy atmospheres of some of the more unheralded late-'90s punk outliers. About half the songs are wrapped in fuzzy pop hooks, with highlights like "Misery Over Dispute" shrouding its dour lyrics in walls of syrupy but melodic distorted guitars, bringing to mind the righteous wail of early Sleater-Kinney. Crutchfield's raspy voice spouts economically poetic lyrics that tell stories where the narrator stands at a distance from the perils of her own life, mirroring the more literary style of Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil wordsmith Blake Schwarzenbach or Team Dresch/The Butchies vocalist Kaia Wilson. Low-key acoustic moments like the gorgeous "Tangled Envisioning" have the same melancholic beauty of early Liz Phair, and the album's emotional complexity shrouded in seemingly simple pop structures calls to mind Lois' mid-'90s solo records on K. The stories of grim wedding scenes, hospital visits, and the various disappointments of daily life are all harrowing and intense, but Crutchfield's deft arrangement of lyrical details and their slow-release impact keeps the darkness from ever coming off as self-indulgent. Instead, the dismal imagery and poetic telling of lives in the balance are delivered with the same detached wisdom and observational cool that allowed Elliott Smith, Liz Phair, or even, at their most vulnerable, the Velvet Underground to tell their troubled tales without the orator being torn apart in the process.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas