Monday, February 17th, 2020

Waxahatchee – Fire

When there’s nothing left to burn…


Juana Giaimo: I’ve been listening to “Fire” ever since it came out. Sometimes, it hurts while other it feels liberating. It’s all already present in the instant her high-pitched voice suddenly cuts through the quiet keyboard. The rest of the song flows naturally — more instruments start appearing, the beat suddenly becoming like an encouraging caress and the guitar lines soothing her voice. “For some of us it ain’t enough”, she sings as her tone lowers and I can’t avoid thinking in all the times I realized how much pressure I put in myself — and in others, because as she sings, “If I could love you unconditionally”… but can she? And that’s the thing: it’s liberating when you think you can do it, and it hurts when you think you’ll be like this forever. 

Vikram Joseph: Katie Crutchfield has seemed to be on the brink of an imperial phase for years now, and this might just be the dawn of it. I enjoyed Out in the Storm a lot, but “Fire” strips everything back and puts the focus squarely on Crutchfield’s songwriting again, and the result is a thing of ephemeral beauty and heartwrenching dignity. Her songs have a way of getting to me, of piercing through the early hours of the day and honing in on my quietest thoughts. The crux of “Fire” is the line “For some of us, it ain’t enough.” It often feels like a lot of people sail through life with desires and dreams that are straightforward, tangible and easily fulfilled within the structures of our society. Waxahatchee is for those of us who fear we might never not be in search of something more.

Leah Isobel: The in medias res opening, with Katie Crutchfield singing at the highest edge of her voice and then sliding down her range, sets the tone – after the emotional extremes of her last two projects, “Fire” acts as a comedown into something decidedly less volatile. It’s well-deserved. But its ragged contentment probably works better in the context of a full-length record; taken on its own terms, “Fire” only expresses the warm glow of its title, not its destructive, cleansing power.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Fire” ends with an ache, with unresolve; it needs another minute, another verse, another anything. But such incompleteness is key: Crutchfield knows the disbelief of hard-fought love reaching its end, of flames left to wither — emptiness is there, always. As keys open the song in homespun, numinous splendor, her voice irrupts the space before gradually sinking (in intensity, melodically): a coming-to-terms in real time. “Give me something/It ain’t enough” becomes a moment of unwanted, unforgiving clarity. Loping guitars provide some semblance of comfort, but it’s the bumbling drums — reminiscent of half-garbled confessions and thumping hearts — that echo her hurt. Heartbreak is anything but Lethean; that pain sits with you when it’s over: as absence, as numbness, as void.

Kayla Beardslee: “Fire” is, I think, about the inability to commit, and I feel similarly about the song itself. Combing through the lyrics felt unrewarding on first listen, especially with the raw vocals, but it’s all unfolded a bit with further repetitions. The lyrics do need the swelling music behind them to convince, but the thesis is there (“Give me something… It ain’t enough”), the melody is pleasant, and the music is warm. Though the track still isn’t quite hitting me in the right emotions (to be fair, they’re a small and moving target), I’ve been oddly compelled to keep listening. Fire is complicated: it can create or destroy.

Jonathan Bradley: Katie Crutchfield’s voice flickers in strange and volatile formations, a flame licking around the melody looking for fuel. Her arrangement, however, is steady and certain: keys with stately chords and a heart that pumps warm blood. Such a relief, that arrangement, with its rolling drum beat, such comfort in the feeling that a blaze might be contained, that it might be a source of life rather than something grown wild and destructive. Crutchfield invokes the river and the sky, the liminal places in cars and on bridges and between the burred parts of tainted towns at the edges of the city. “For some of us it ain’t enough,” she murmurs, and she doesn’t say what isn’t enough, because the sense is that maybe nothing could be: perhaps it is the same unknown Lucinda Williams saw by the side of the road.

Brad Shoup: “I’m a bird in the trees/I can learn to see with a partial view” is not only a sneaky-good internal rhyme, it’s tapping a find-coziness/accept-mortality combo. Her vocal leaps in, barely contained, and gets settled by a crisply recorded slow lope of a backbeat. Because of the pace, maybe, it ends up like church music.

Tim de Reuse: You’ve got the instrumental: rickety, skeletal, sparse enough that each note of the plucky guitar line barely leads into the next one. You’ve got the voice: dynamically expressive, sans vibrato, with circular harmonies and unpredictable syncopation in the middle verses. This is a tune about the difficulty of being vulnerable that’s exactly as uncomfortable and awkward as its subject matter deserves, and it’s all the more believable for it.

Alfred Soto: She has a sound: a guitar picking that sketches tracks as skeletal as elm branches in winter. “Fire” combines song and sound, foregoing some of her identity too. Her melodies aren’t as indelible as Mitski’s, who shares this approach. 

Nortey Dowuona: A looping, synth build climbs, then pauses as pebble drums drop and Katie’s piercing, cutting voice wafts up a running riff of bass and flattened guitar, which opens out for a slow snare pattern. The harmonies lurk alongside each other uneasily, with toms scattered down and piling on the right side of the mix. Allison drifts into the shadows, the bass loops once more and it fades into the morning fog.

Kylo Nocom: The initial starkness is a fault, highlighting the obnoxiousness of the folk-y vocals; given some time, however, the song’s central warmth slips out of every word she sings.

Thomas Inskeep: I’m down with the low-key, lo-fi keyboards and the production in general, but why is she singing like that? That is one seriously off-putting voice.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Fire” is gradual and well-crafted (the electric piano tone alone sounds so good that it made me look at the producer credits) and a little boring. It stretches out over its three and a half minutes like a cat in a sunbeam, never hitting any particular emotional high. I’m not so sure it needs to — Katie Crutchfield sounds relaxed here in a sort of stasis, letting rolling drums and intricate guitar lines surround her.

Julian Axelrod: Katie Crutchfield makes music for miscommunication. Her songs are deeply intimate and interior, but her lyrics are littered with lines from arguments and words left unsaid. Yet “Fire” is clear and uncluttered, honest and direct. It’s an adult conversation with eye contact and mutual respect. And while it’s still directed inward, it’s informed by a lifetime of compromises and missed opportunities. Of course, communication never come without complications; Crutchfield is haunted by heartbreak and vice and the thoughts that keep her up at night. But the refrain — “That’s what I wanted” — nods at the bravery of recognizing your true desires. It’s an affirmation of the self after years of neglect, one of those rare beautiful moments when you can actually hear yourself think. The song stretches and unfurls like an endless highway, and the keys ripple like sun through the windshield. “Fire” is Waxahatchee’s best song yet, and it feels like a promise: If you spend enough time chipping away at yourself, you can create something beautiful.

Reader average: [6.33] (3 votes)

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4 Responses to “Waxahatchee – Fire”

  1. I loved “Ivy Tripp” but I just can’t seem to get into her last few albums. This single has grown on me some though.

  2. ivy tripp is actually the record i have trouble getting into! i do think this is closer in approach to that record than to, like, out in the storm – i just really, really love out in the storm.

  3. out in the storm was actually the album i had the hardest time getting into, ha. i feel like this new one is gonna be her best… please be true

  4. I’m with JMK, this is the most I’ve loved KC since Ivy Tripp! But when it comes to favorite Waxahatchee albums, there’s no wrong answers :-) thanks to everyone who blurbed this!