With much experience in the pop punk arena under her belt, Allison Crutchfield’s first solo effort was sure to be a spectacle for those interested in the lo-fi pop punk and indie rock scenes. Crutchfield is most well-known for her relation to twin sister Katie Crutchfield, also known as indie rock and folk artist Waxahatchee, who has proven to be a successful solo act following her musical endeavours with her sister in pop punk bands The Ackleys, P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana. Whilst Katie went on to pursue ambitions as a solo artist following the split of P.S. Eliot, Allison went on to form an emo band under the name of Swearin’. This did not see an end to the sisters’ collaborations, however, with Allison appearing on Katie’s highly-successful sophomore release in 2013 under her Waxahatchee pseudonym, Cerulean Salt, which also featured production credits from fellow Swearin’ members Kyle Gilbride and Keith Spencer. Waxahatchee and Swearin’ would often tour together, showing that the Crutchfield sisters, whilst not full-time collaborators, were still keen to work with one another. The sisters’ participation in each other’s works carries on to this new release from Allison, her first solo album, Tourist in This Town, with Katie providing backing vocals on several tracks. Given the presence of her sister on this release and the familiar lo-fi pop punk sound that appears on much of this record, it seems that Allison is staying within her comfort zone for the most part. Nonetheless, she knows her way around the underground pop punk circuit so well that this doesn’t strike me as a bad thing, as I was expectant of Allison to come through with a well-crafted album featuring the endearing lo-fi pop punk aesthetic that has come to be closely associated with her brand. What’s more, this album seems to sit more closely to the pop side of the pop punk spectrum, featuring many sweet vocal melodies and nice instrumental arrangements featuring very prominent synthesizers. On this record, I was hoping for Allison to explore a bit more whilst still staying true to the musical community within which she has made a comfortable home for herself, and she delivers in certain regards, but in a different manner as to how I expected.
Broad Daylight is a very attention-grabbing opener. The introduction of the track features an a cappella vocal performance from Allison, with the lead vocals carrying a sweet melody as the backing harmonies enrich the sound as to make the track feel considerably uplifting. Here, Allison demonstrates her abilities as a singer more than ever before, and it seems that this record is often a lot more focussed on Allison’s voice than her previous output as a member of a group. Following the a cappella section, a soft synth with some ambient background noises introduces the second section of the track, which feels like a different song entirely. Allison’s singing continues to shine over this section, and, for the first time, I noticed a similarity in her singing style to that of Suzanne Vega’s, which is certainly a compliment. This more subtle section of the track is abruptly pushed aside as the chorus kicks in, with dynamic drumming that sounds great in the mix and some elegant guitar licks played underneath yet another catchy vocal melody from Allison. The production on this song, and indeed the whole album, is fantastic. The lo-fi quality featured on Allison’s previous musical endeavours remains on Tourist in This Town, but her voice still manages to sound clean and vibrant in the mix. Moreover, the drums are potent and forceful at times without being overpowering. The shining synth ambience that lurks in the background of Broad Daylight is always noticeable without being too demanding of the listener’s attention, allowing them be allured by the rest of the ear candy on this track. Overall, Broad Daylight is a fantastically promising opener and stands out as a real highlight on the record.
I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California is a track that is as bright and summery as the name suggests. The simple guitar line paired with the poppy synths have an undeniable charm and Allison’s singing is also charming in a cutesy girl-next-door fashion. Whilst this track seems relatively predictable, with melodies that feel rather familiar, its allure still makes it stand out as a fun little track that doesn’t overstay its welcome at just under two and a half minutes in length. Oddly enough, despite the seemingly cheery title, the lyrics on this track don’t exactly reflect the fun feeling provided by the instrumentation. Whilst the topic of a song addressed to one’s ex-lover is nothing new, Allison approaches the topic with an interesting outlook, and lines like, “I keep confusing love and nostalgia” display a mature sense of nuance and self-awareness that make the lyrics, and the song generally, all the more accessible and appealing.
Charlie is an equally upbeat song musically, although it demonstrates a very different approach to the song previous. The track is mainly centred around some simple harmonised acoustic guitar melodies with Allison’s usual sweet vocal delivery over the top. The lyrics about “drinking champagne sangria on the rocky beach” reflect the summery sentiment of the song’s musical qualities. The strings that appear on this track add a new layer to the composition and change the feeling of the song considerably, whilst the synths that replace them during the second verse bring the track back in its original direction. Again, it must be said that this track is an equally predictable cut as to I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California, but unlike the latter song, I feel that Charlie, which is a similar length, could have done to be fleshed-out a bit more. It felt to me like the song was gearing up to become a bit more grandiose, potentially with some indulgent use of synths, electric guitars and drums, but the song disappointingly ends before I would have liked and before I feel it gave everything it has to offer.
A handful of songs around the middle of the tracklisting on Tourist in This Town feature an aesthetic more reminiscent of dream pop than Allison’s usual punk-orientated strand of pop. Nonetheless, in concept, Allison Crutchfield taking on a dream pop approach is not out of line with her usual musical style, as her lo-fi approach to pop music in the past has had somewhat of a dreamy tinge to it. The production on Dean’s Room is very reminiscent of dream pop, with the airy synth leads, spacey drums and jangly guitar work sounding like absolute staples of a standard dream pop tune. The result doesn’t yield one of the strongest tracks on the record, but it is certainly a song that would satisfy your average dream pop fan’s desires. Sightseeing has a more breezy approach to the dream pop aesthetic and, whilst sounding perfectly nice, its rather uneventful structure and less tuneful melodies make it one of the more unmemorable tracks on this album.
Overall, Tourist in This Town is a very strong and incredibly promising first solo effort from Allison Crutchfield, despite seeming like somewhat of a tentative feel of the waters on some tracks, rather than Allison displaying a fully-formed solo musical identity. Nonetheless, I’m certain that if Allison focussed on her solo outputs as her sister has that she could produce a project with a definitive personality that lives up to the strongest tracks on this album.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10