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Waxahatchee returns, shaken to the core on 'Out In The Storm'

Philadelphia singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield is back with her superb fourth album, and is playing a hometown show at Union Transfer on July 14.

Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee, singer / songwriter. (Photo: Jesse Riggins / Merge Records) posted 2017
Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee, singer / songwriter. (Photo: Jesse Riggins / Merge Records) posted 2017Read moreJesse Riggins

Katie Crutchfield first made a name for herself as Waxahatchee in 2012 with American Weekend, an album of stark, stripped-down songs recorded in her parents house in Birmingham, Ala., during a freak snowstorm.

Since then, Crutchfield and her twin sister, Alison, have moved first to Brooklyn and then to Philadelphia, as Waxahatchee's stature has grown in the indie-music world with two high-profile releases, 2013's Cerulean Salt and 2015's Ivy Tripp.

Now, Crutchfield and her band named after a creek near her childhood home are back with the most immediate, emotionally direct, and emphatically rocked-out Waxahatchee album yet.

Out in the Storm (Merge *** 1/2), comes out Friday, July 14, with a tour-opening hometown-record-release show that night at Union Transfer. The band is also playing a Free at Noon concert at the World Cafe Live earlier that day.

The stylistic similarities between American Weekend and the tempestuous Out in the Storm, which is her second album released by the prestigious North Carolina indie label Merge Records, came about in part, Crutchfield says, because "both of them are kind of breakup records."

"They're different situations and different perspectives," Crutchfield says, talking up Out in the Storm on a breezy afternoon at a pop-up beer garden near her Powelton Village rowhouse, where her sister is crashing in the second bedroom.

"But they both come from that same place, that weird emotional start-over that happens at the end of a relationship," the 29-year-old singer says, "when you get very close to yourself, and you're right at your core emotionally. I was going for that. I really wanted it to be direct and rooted in my own experience."

That's in contrast to both Ivy Tripp and Cerulean Salt, which was recorded in the West Philly basement of the group house where she and her sister lived when they moved here in 2013. "Cerulean Salt was still very heavy-hearted," she says. "But it was a different type of heartache. With Ivy Tripp, I was trying to challenge myself, writing more abstract, poetic lyrics and cloaking them in metaphor."

Out in the Storm, by contrast, gets straight to the point. It was produced by John Agnello, who worked with '90s guitar bands that Crutchfield grew up on, such as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., as well as Philly acts such as Kurt Vile and Free Energy, and was recorded in less than two weeks in December at Fishtown's Miner Street Recording. (Crutchfield liked the studio so much that she returned the next month and recorded the nonalbum track "No Curse," for Philly nonprofit Weathervane Music's Shaking Through series.)

"Never Been Wrong," the album's first track, introduces the theme of a relationship post-mortem with crashing guitar chords and the opening line: "I spent all my time trying to learn how to defeat you at your own game. It's embarrassing."

And on Out in the Storm songs like "Recite Remorse," Crutchfield sounds shaken, yet still resolute. "I was shaking like a leaf, I was clenching my fist," she sings. "I was losing my mind, yeah, I was dancing with death."

"That's a really vulnerable one," Crutchfield says of "Recite." "There's a lot more anger and frustration on this record than on my other records."

Doing press for Out in the Storm, Crutchfield is being pressed for personal details. She's not giving them up. "I feel that I've been very generous with the details of this relationship on this album. Someone did something wrong, and the dynamic became unfair. But it's vague, and I'm going to keep it vague. … This relationship completely changed me. It's like an injustice was done, and I think people are going to relate to that."

In September, the talented Crutchfield sisters reunited P.S. Eliot, one of the bands they formed as teenagers as they came of age in the Birmingham DIY punk scene, featuring Katie on vocals and guitar and Allison on drums. (The other bands, also worth clicking on: The Ackleys and Bad Banana.)

In January, Allison released her excellent solo debut, Tourist in This Town, also on Merge, and also a breakup album, after she split from Kyle Gilbride, the guitarist with whom she had previously fronted the indie-pop band Swearin'.

When Allison celebrated that album's release at the First Unitarian Church in February, Katie joined her onstage for a rousing cover of "Letter From an Occupant," by the New Pornographers, whom Katie then opened for this spring on a solo tour. And when Waxahatchee hits the road this month, the all-female band will include keyboard player Allison, who will also open shows when the tour heads to Europe.

Sisterly closeness is on display on "Sparks Fly," which ignites the "a woman reawakened" thematic through-line described in the Out in the Storm album bio. It's about gaining perspective with her twin while in Berlin on a European tour. "Then I see myself through my sister's eyes," she sings, coming alive. "I'm a live wire, electrified."

"The concept of that song is that when you're seeing yourself through your partner's eyes, sometimes, you don't like the person you're seeing, like you've gotten really far away from yourself," Crutchfield says. "I was out in Berlin with a bunch of friends and my sister, and she was seeing me as this funny, happy person, which is not how I was seeing myself."

The sisters will soon be not so close, geographically at least. After a run of Waxahatchee tour dates end in October, Allison plans to relocate to Los Angeles, a move foreshadowed on the Tourist song "I Don't Wanna Ever Leave California." "I think it's a good move for her," says her younger sister (by a few minutes). They have never moved farther away from each other than the 150 miles between Birmingham and Chattanooga, Tenn. She jokes that, "now that she's across the hall from me, I'm like, please go to L.A. But when she goes, I'll be sad."

And while the Philadelphia indie scene has been blessed with two Crutchfield sisters, it could soon have none.

"I'm considering leaving, too," she says. "I'm really missing the South lately. I kind of want to write my next record and make my next record in the South. When I left Birmingham, I was young. The older I get, the more I feel connected with aspects of that culture. When I was 21, I was really trying to shed that. I miss the people, the warmth. The culture, the food."

Her next record, she thinks, might reflect the influence of the George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn records she has been listening to. She also has been wearing out new albums by Aldous Harding and Kevin Morby.

Crutchfield is delighted with how Out in the Storm turned out, and how Agnello persuaded her to sequence it. (She wanted to open with the ghostly "Fade"; he chose the opposite, obvious strategy, and closed with it.)

"It feels right," she says. "I'm so eager to play these songs live." Writing them, she says, was "very cathartic. Songwriting has always really been a vehicle for me to process emotion and get closure on how I feel about situations," she says. "And then it's like, OK, I got all that out of my system. I feel better about it now."

Waxahatchee with Cayetana and Snail Mail at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden at 8 :30 p.m. Friday July 14. $16-$18. 215-232-2100.