Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

17. Waxahatchee
Cerulean Salt
(Don Giovanni)

Katie Crutchfield released her second album as Waxahatchee this year, taking the mostly-solo project another step forward from her 2012 American Weekend debut. On Cerulean Salt, the Birmingham, AL-born, Brooklyn, NY-based songwriter forgoes the obvious influences of her punk roots and continues to show her softer, more introspective side.

With an air of nonchalance, Crutchfield delivers honest, heartbreaking lyrics about drinking and love and existential crises that strike at the heart of not-teen-anymore angst, switching between the accompaniment of sad acoustic strumming and fuzzed-out, lo-fi guitars. Occasionally backed by Keith Spencer and Kyle Gilbride on drums and bass, it's a more collaborative effort than the first Waxahatchee record, but manages to maintain the self-recorded charm that makes Crutchfield so endearing and relatable.

Despite the instrumental back-up, there's never any doubt that this is a collection of very personal songs from what seems to be a pretty dark place. And while her storytelling technique shines through in her observations of other people on tracks like "Dixie Cups and Jars" or "You're Damaged," it's lines like "I had a dream last night/ We had hit separate bottoms/ You yell right in my face/ And I poison myself numb" ("Lively") that capture Crutchfield's own brilliant, confessional songwriting skills. It's raw and melancholic, but no one else makes sadness sound so comforting. (Sarah Murphy)