P.S. ELIOT – 2007-2011 (Don Giovanni): It’s immediately apparent after hearing sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield’s style of bouncy-but-gloomy indie rock just how out of place they must have been in the bro-heavy backwoods of Birmingham, Alabama. They started as teenagers, dedicating every waking non-school hour to practicing guitars and drums, songwriting and singing, up late until the rents told them it was too late to be making all that noise, and over the course of a few years the Crutchfield sisters built an impressive portfolio of pop-tinged feminist punk. This two-disc, fifty-track compilation includes all of P.S Eliot’s material: the studio albums Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds and Sadie on disc 1, EP Living in Squalor and self-released Bike Wreck demo (as well as a handful of unreleased, home-recorded demos) on disc 2. For context, apart from their time in P.S. Eliot, the Crutchfield sisters have released five LPs and three Eps between them. Neither is thirty years old.
The music of P.S. Eliot is the music of discovery. They and the music stumble, they scrape their knees, get up and brush off the grit and keep trudging forward. They hit obstacles, musical and lyrical, along the way. The band’s oscillation between life-affirmation and a fascination with death is something only a young person could pull off. “We’ll go to sleep when we’re dead,” Katie Crutchfield sings on album-opener “Tennessee,” “and I’ll quit when I’m twenty-five.” On “The Cyborg,” Katie claims she doesn’t want to live forever, but that can only be because she doesn’t know youth doesn’t last that long. Their approach to life is summed up on “We’d Never Agree”: “Maybe you’re just wary / Maybe I’m just naïve.” Sometimes she can’t keep the life inside her from bursting out in yelps. “Troubled Medium” features a Sisyphean guitar lick, climbing and stumbling over itself towards the chorus where Crutchfield lets go: “I’m sorry for the mess / You see, my mind is somewhere else!” She delivers lines quickly but not breathlessly—the cadence of her voice often peaks when the drums and guitar punctuate a bar, rising and falling like travelling through a valley. And the way she says the lyrics is as though they came to her in the moment, that even as she formulates the words in her mouth you can hear her learning the meaning of what she says all over again.
The second disc contains extremely coarse demos, early drafts of songs that would get a production cleanup on their studio albums. Rough-hewn as they are, they often offer acoustic versions that, despite the low quality, make for exquisite partners to their electric cousins. Take “Bear Named Otis,” which features only a guitar strum to accompany Katie’s vocals, which soar higher compared to the EP version. In them you can hear the late night practice sessions, the lazy Saturday afternoons, the early morning warmup before shipping themselves off to class.
Although there’s little in their work that paints their geographical origins, there is something still distinctly southern about their music, an indistinctly gothic quality of their outlook and aura. There is a desire to escape their surroundings, not out of disdain but out of curiosity from having lived in a place preoccupied with self-preservation. They’re wide-eyed and full of wonderment, world-weary and self-skeptical. Like the best twee-totalers they’re sweet on life yet hard-edged enough with just enough of a touch of nihilism to break the mold, while simultaneously too spry and un-cynical for straight punk. P.S. Eliot exists on the periphery of understanding. They catch moments of clarity in their palms like dandelion seeds, present for only a moment before the wind takes off with them. It’s the noise of a generational discomfort. And what a noise it is. A MINUS
Waxahatchee – Early Recordings (Merge EP ’16): A MINUS
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp (Merge ’15): A MINUS
Allison Crutchfield – Lean In to It (Stupid Bag EP ’14): B PLUS (**)
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Salinas ’13): B PLUS (**)
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni ’13): A MINUS
Waxahatchee – American Weekend (Don Giovanni ’12): A MINUS