Here’s the problem: I don’t like country music.

Wait, that came out wrong.

Let’s try again: I don’t find myself listening to much country music. I just don’t think to listen to it. While I appreciate it for what it is, the sticky sweet molasses of true southern twang makes my scalp itch.

Katie Crutchfield, who records as Waxahatchee, has said that a strong inspiration for her work is Lucinda Williams—going as far as penning what amounts to a love letter to Williams’s seminal album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” on Stereogum.

Now, is Gravel Road a great album? Undoubtedly. Lucinda Williams is an incredibly talented musician at the top of her game here. Everyone I know with an opinion I respect about these things identifies it as a canonical country album. It can be hard for me to hear past the 90s flourishes at times but it’s clearly something special and beloved by many.

And though it’s not even all that country at its core, it still makes my scalp itch.

Saint Cloud though… the new album from Waxahatchee that has much of the same vibe throughout, gives me a totally different kind of chill.

I mean, listen to this song:

I get real honest to goodness goosebumps all over this thing. When she hits that opening note? Holy crap.

In some ways this album is every bit as country (if not more so) as Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, so why do I love it so damn much?

True, I have a history with Waxahatchee that I never developed with Williams. I picked up a copy of Cerulean Salt when it came out in 2013 and made everyone I know listen to Swan Dive.

Every album she’s put out since then has been preordered or picked up on release day.

In 2017 the song Silver from Out in the Storm was on repeat all summer. My entire family still turns it up when it comes on in a mix.

Saint Cloud is its own thing though. While her prior albums followed an arc that unexpectedly got tighter and looser at the same time, Saint Cloud sounds like a badly needed rest stop on an increasingly frenetic cross country drive.

Just when you think she’s stretched a lyric or note so far it’ll break, it resolves into something wholly different.

Take the fourth song, Lilacs.

Crutchfield sings “If I’m a broken record, write it in the dust, babe / I’ll fill myself back up like I used to do / And if my bones are made of delicate sugar / I won’t end up anywhere good without you” and carries that last youuuuuu to the end of the world—rising and falling as she dodges the flotsam of imagined moments.

And just when she stops there’s a beat of fading discord, threatening silence. She drops an unexpected “I need your love too” resolving the unseen tension in the air and bringing it all back to earth—twisting the very last tooooo in a sweet skyward gaze through budding trees at a cold spring sun.

The song is over too fast, leaving desire. So you listen again. And again.

On the vinyl, Lilacs hits right after Fire on side A. It might take a few spins to get to side B because side A is such a perfect listen. But when you do, a whole new album unfolds.

The first track on side B, Witches, sounds like it’s lifted right off a 2020 reimagining of the aforementioned Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

War hits next—grounding this album as unquestionably Waxahatchee—all driving beat, soaring vowels, leveling a straight gaze in the mirror while loving and hating what you see with fervor.

The last three tracks are a tryptic of rural life. Dreams, swagger, disappointment, nostalgia, and glowing embers of a bygone era. Some of the most beautiful writing ever put on wax.

It’s rare to come across a perfect album but that’s what this is. Above the gorgeous music there’s a vision of Americana between the highways that howls to be seen and heard.

I caught Waxahatchee on tour in support of Out in the Storm and had hoped to do the same this spring as they made their way through DC. Until our communal sequestration ends—together alone—get yourself a copy of this album and dream of open spaces, dirt roads, yellow light bulbs against a darkening blue sky, and the horrifying nakedness of new love.

Does this mean I like country music now? With songs like Can’t Do Much, I think maybe?