Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week it’s Tourist In This Town, the debut solo album from Allison Crutchfield, formerly of Swearin’.
Love necessitates risking loss. It’s an investment, but one you’ll always sell for less than it was worth. Relationships involve ingraining your roots into another person, but at their end you don’t simply pull them smoothly back out. Instead those points of entry are severed straight through; the ends remain with the other person, and you’re simply left with splintered strands badly damaged. The void people talk about after a breakup isn’t from the absence of who you were once with, but from what you’ve lost of yourself. You have the end of their roots lodged in you – those don’t go anywhere. But your own? They’ll take some time to grow back, and even then they won’t ever return quite the same.
Allison Crutchfield explores the repercussions of romantic dissolution across her striking debut solo album Tourist In This Town, an enormously evocative collection that maintains the immaculate songwriting craft of her previous work in the great P.S. Elliot and Swearin’, yet sonically covers entirely different territory. Sitting in the center of a venn diagram of dream-rock and garage pop, Crutchfield captures in startling, sparkling detail the process of learning to become whole whilst grieving for what she left of herself in another and what they left behind with her. These songs are packed with reflections of the little daily feelings that take up massive weight in the aftermath of breaking-up, those that ground her focus on what’s immediately within reach even as she casts her gaze buoyed over the horizon.
The album’s non-linear narrative – her perspective more autobiographical than it’s been prior in Crutchfield’s songwriting – embroiders a deep patchwork of emotional digressions that ultimately serve to illuminate her journey to shake loose residual attachment. She wields the music primarily as a means to frame the lyrics, with a number of the songs kept unadorned to prevent the storytelling from ever leaving the center. Crutchfield commands a patient serenity that allows her to depict her past without pulling it apart, each word landing completely intact, holistic in its impressions, and richly defined. “When the light we once saw in each other flickers and fades/ When the two of us become one in completely different ways,” Crutchfield sings as if opening a funeral service, her voice steady with acceptance, respectful in mourning. “Our love is unquestionable/ Our love is here to die.”
“Broad Daylight” gives these reflections plenty of space for Crutchfield’s voice to ring, her words impenetrably enunciated. Yet the immaculate vulnerability proves unsustainable, and midway through the floor gives in to a bombastic fit of percussive thrashing. Crutchfield’s composure momentarily breaks, with too her absolutism. “It isn’t black and white/ It’s gray,” she roars, before going out on the offensive: “Now that’s it’s happened, you say it was bound to/ And now that we’re out here, you say you gotta take care of you/ And I, I should take care of me/ Go out and kill some memories.”
But of course it’s never that easy, and those memories come to haunt Crutchfield regardless of where she turns to outrun them. “I can’t enjoy Paris because I can’t get away from you,” she stirs, lost in a foreign setting surrounded by familiar feelings. The two spectral, seesawing chords that comprise the bulk of “Sightseeing” ebb and flow as do Crutchfield’s conviction in her separation. “I’m so narcissistic I want you to be obsessed with me,” she resigns, but that’s not to say she’s apologetic. She affirms that “I want what I want,” and there’s no simpler or greater truth to remember when retrospective doubt would have you otherwise question the validity of your own feelings. Tourist is a steel cage match over the authority to determine your self-worth. “The things you used to hate about me are all heightened now/ But I love myself, or I’m figuring out how.”
To break-up is to redefine the context in which you once knew someone — a calculated step back, disarmament during a cold war. You ultimately can’t move on until you begin to love someone else more; find new soil to bury yourself within. But until then the last home you lived in before you went back out on the road will always remain an aching reminder of what you left behind to venture out wherever you decided to go. And how could you possibly love someone more than the gunman you share a bed with, the one who cares so much to cry over your body as they lay it to waste? You can’t until someone new has your heart for ransom yet deems it priceless. The path Crutchfield takes on Tourist never quite reaches that resolution, but it suggests that for now she at least has her heart firmly back in her own hands.