Love and nostalgia collide with anxiety and regret in Allison Crutchfield’s debut full-length album, “Tourist in This Town,” recorded in her adoptive hometown of Philadelphia with producer Jeff Zeigler.
The Alabama native has been touring as part of various bands (often alongside her twin sister Katie of Waxahatchee) for about a decade now, but this is her first LP release as a solo artist. She began to branch out with her solo work after Swearin’, the pop-punk group she co-founded with Kyle Gilbride, disbanded. The end of her relationship with one of the band members is the source of the album’s lyrical content.
And in an era strewn with deliberately anonymous party-pop lyricism, the personal nature of Crutchfield’s ambient lo-fi songwriting is heartbreakingly real. This is largely a break-up album that ties in very closely with events in the artist’s own life.
The album begins with one minute of eerie a cappella on “Broad Daylight” as Crutchfield sets the stage for the nostalgia, anxiety and regret she layers on top of these ten songs. “When the light we once saw in each other flickers and fades / When the two of us become one in a completely different way / With the fear of waking life and the thoughts of you and I / Our love is unquestionable, our love is here to die,” she sings as doo-wop style cooing provides background ambience.
Crutchfield showcases a divergent instrumentation from her pop-punk past that is laden with Zeigler’s ample use of ’80s-style synthesizers, lending electronic distortion to her otherwise clear and crisp vocals. Tinny marching-band-style drums are also notable on many songs including “Dean’s Room” and “Chopsticks on Pots and Pans.”
Everything is used sparingly, even the synth, and often on a single song electronic synth may give way to a driving drum beat or simplistic guitar melody that only serves to better amplify Crutchfield’s warm Southern voice.
Whining synth melts into twangy guitar riffs reminiscent of country ballads more than Philly-style bedroom-pop on the song “I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California.” Crutchfield’s sweet, honeyed voice belts out some hard truths about her relationship troubles. “We’re pretty far away from Philadelphia / And that’s fine with me ‘cause I’m really starting to hate you / And anyways I’m looking to move / I keep confusing love and nostalgia / I don’t ever wanna leave California,” she sings.
A close-listener can follow the disintegration of Crutchfield’s relationship in her poetic lyricism, but even so she often backtracks on her emotions, sorting through past events to examine faults in herself and her lover. “There is so much between you and me / The secret lives and deaths that we lead / The liberty in this kind of grief,” she sings on “Secret Lives and Deaths.”
This is what makes this album so personal – Crutchfield’s ability to accurately depict in her songwriting the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany a break-up, and the search for answers that comes after. The simplistic piano and guitar melodies, accompanied by Zeigler’s driving synth and her sister’s haunting background vocals, layer the introspective lyrics in blankets of lo-fi warmth.
“Tourist in This Town” is not an overtly sad album and different messages may be dug out of it depending on the listener’s own relationship experiences. Crutchfield forces us to examine our own past through her past mistakes. What can we learn from a failed relationship? How should we define ourselves after a break-up? What should we do with our memories, both the good and the bad? Crutchfield offers us no easy answers to these questions.