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Review: Allison Crutchfield Finds Her Own Way on Solo Debut Tourist in This Town

Allison Crutchfield’s first full-length album as a solo artist opens with a resigned and comforting sigh. It’s a prologue that sounds like an elegy: “When the light we once saw in each other flickers and fades,” she sings, “When the two of us become one in a completely different way.” A muted organ enters, then fades. Crutchfield’s voice rises up with brilliant finality: “Our love is unquestionable / Our love is here to die.” With that line, her intent is clear—her solo debut is about finding yourself alone.

Until now, Crutchfield was best known as part of a group—the band she co-fronted, Swearin’, and P.S. Eliot, her old band with twin sister Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee. Town is an autobiographical breakup record–it marks the end of Swearin’, as well the end of Crutchfield’s relationship with former bandmate Kyle Gilbride. When talking about the album, Crutchfield sounds sheepish admitting it: “It’s such a cliché,” she told Paste, “there’s just no getting around it.” Thankfully, Crutchfield is too observant and too self-possessed to fall into the kind of traps the more uncreatively heartbroken do. Though it runs just 33 minutes, Tourist in this Town feels like a road trip movie, a scrapbook of mixed emotions compiled from postcard-sized travel diary entries.

Where Crutchfield’s last solo project, 2014’s Lean Into It EP, submerged her vocals in blurry synths, most of the songs on Town are spacious and crystal-clear—befitting an artist so sure of her vision that she decided how many tracks her album would have before she started writing it. “Mile Away” is both an electrified rumble and an incisive dismantling of someone else’s ego; “Charlie” is a sweet-and-sour love song edged with nostalgia and longing. The exception is “The Marriage,” a minute-long twee-punk shakedown that reprises the album’s opening lines with a renewed confidence. It’s reminiscent of Crutchfield’s old work with Swearin’, though she’s now accompanied by current boyfriend Sam Cook-Parrott of Radiator Hospital as she sings, “My love for you is unquestionable / My love is infinite.” If his appearance in the narrative feels unexpected, well, Crutchfield thought so, too: “I felt like, ‘I really shouldn’t be dating anybody right now,’ but I also feel like this [new] relationship feels big and important. It was a lot of back and forth in my brain.”

It’s Crutchfield’s ability to scale romantic drama precisely into her songwriting that creates some of the album’s best moments. There’s tension and release in unexpected places, emotional reflection that’s honestly self-critical without being self-deprecating or knee-jerk accusatory. She has a knack for teasing profundity out of shopworn phrases like “have your cake and eat it too” (“I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California”), or editing them so subtly that the adjustment almost doesn’t register: “I am just as scared of you as you are of me” (“Dean’s Room”). “Sightseeing,” a slow, heartbroken dispatch from a hotel room in Paris, imagines an ex-lover’s haunting presence, but even in memory, he’s emotionally dishonest.

The album’s glowing center is “Dean’s Room,” a glossy new wave song built around engineer Jeff Ziegler’s (Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn) collection of vintage analog synthesizers. At an angle, it can sound as much like a hashing-out with a former partner as an internal battle with one’s own demons, awaiting a moment of weakness. The second half of the song is given over to instrumental transcendence. (It first reminded me of R.E.M., or New Order, until I listened to it so many times it only sounded like itself.)

The bright, guitar solo-ing, college-radio-friendly sound of Town might put off some of Swearin’s lo-fi devotees, but it ought to endear the album to the same people who embraced Waxahatchee’s breakout success with 2015’s Ivy Tripp. Allison Crutchfield’s emergence as a solo artist is linked to her sister’s—she wrote many of her new songs while touring with Waxahatchee, and she’s likewise signed to Merge Records. But drawing the formal comparisons between these two longtime collaborators feels too easy; Allison Crutchfield may call herself a tourist, but she’s going where she wants.