Uniformity is a sin. When you blur out the details, level away the differences, turn down the contrast, what have you got left? Something indistinguishable. I’m not talking about uniformity in the sense of putting all your ingredients in the blender to get a tasteless, formless brown mud. No, the uniformity I’m talking about seems much more innocuous. It’s closer to drinking the same drink every night, frequenting the same pub over again, repeating conversations. The problem isn’t the quality of the experiences themselves; it’s that if the differences between them vanish, there’s no way to pick out the good, and no way to tell the good from the bad.
When it comes to music, I am (I stubbornly remain) an album listener. But the easiest way for an album to be memorable is to play the singles game well. If there are two, three songs that stand out, two or three songs I could put on a playlist, I’ll look favourably upon the whole. But – and this is where uniformity hurts, even if the album is of a high standard – if all songs sound the same, they slip from my attention. This is just the way we humans think: we favour contrasts over averages, stories over statistics. This works both ways, because uniformity makes it equally hard to notice the bad eggs, the songs that you’d do better skipping altogether.
Out In the Storm suffers from this defect. As a whole, the album is great, as you would expect from Waxahatchee. It starts well with ‘Never Been Wrong’, a chunk of energy that showcases Katie Crutchfield’s edgy voice as much as the spirited band supporting her. It’s a song that could easily fill a festival ground. Two tracks later follows ‘Silver’, the single, which displays the same blistering guitars, though with a slightly less venomous Crutchfield. But ‘Recite Remorse’ sounds suspiciously like another track from 2013’s Cerulean Salt and from the dragging ‘Sparks Fly’ onwards I begin to lose interest. And the issue isn’t that those tracks are worse than the first three; it’s that if the order of the album were swapped, I would’ve liked a different three tracks, just because they would have come first. Because the palette Waxahatchee employs stays constant throughout Out In the Storm, it’s hard to notice the subtler differences between tracks. This is problematic because it’s clear that these songs are great. But if it’s hard to recognise greatness, it’s equally hard to enjoy it.
Often, being in the company of an album for a longer period of time somewhat resolves this problem. I used to think that all Editors songs were the same, but after listening to An End Has a Start for a dozen dozen times (it’s one of our few car CDs) I can tell you the merits and twists of each single one. So perhaps my criticism of Out In the Storm is premature, but then again, the listening experience changes over time with so many factors that it’s not clear to me that any temporal vantage point has more legitimacy than another. And despite the existence of the Editors-effect, I’m afraid that Out In the Storm will never reach that point of clarity for me.
And that’s okay. Uniformity is a sin, but it’s not the worst one. I’m seeing Waxahatchee live in September and I’m looking forward to it, and hearing belters like ‘Never Been Wrong’ or ‘No Question’ has only increased that feeling. It’s as if I’m passing a landscape by on a car, recognising its beauty but not getting the chance to zoom in. I regret that I will never see the details, but I appreciate the view nonetheless.
-- Caspar Jacobs, July 13, 2017