The cover of Waxahatchee’s fourth album, Out in the Storm, isn’t the best of 2017, but it might be the most apt. It shows the project’s founder Katie Crutchfield up close, head tilted downwards and eyes almost completely obscured by her hair. This sums up the album: Crutchfield brings the listener up close, singing about feelings in the wake of a failed relationship and traversing those emotional waters to reach a point of self-acceptance. Unfortunately, just like the album art, Out in the Storm only gets one half of “up close and personal” right. It sounds like the natural continuation of previous albums Cerulean Salt and Ivy Tripp, but lacks their urgency - even though it’s certainly her most urgent-sounding album to date - the moments that sink into you are unfortunately few.

In contrast to immediate predecessor Ivy Tripp, which kicked off with a synth drone, Out in the Storm gets off to a fast and furious start with ‘Never Been Wrong’. With charging guitars right out the gate, Crutchfield sings in the present tense about all the pain her ex brought onto her and how she was trying to resist it: “I spend all my time learning how to defeat you at your own game/ It’s embarrassing,” she sings in her raspy southern tone before impressively going for broke: “Everyone will hear me complain/ Everyone will pity my pain,” her voice rising higher on “everyone.” She howls as she facetiously declares the other person has “never been wrong,” and while it doesn’t necessarily indicate this will be her best album, it does show signs of narrative focus that might’ve been absent on previous releases.

The narrative is there, the focus, not so much. Individually, the songs are mostly well-crafted tales of woe and perseverance, but the album suffers from a track order that feels rather incidental. Second track ‘8 Ball’ is understandably subdued, but ‘Silver’ ramps up the energy again and revives the charging guitars of ‘Never Been Wrong’ to the point of feeling like Crutchfield wanted to give the album a second opener, especially with her album title-inspiring declaration of “I went out in the storm and I’m never returning.” The album alternates between harder-hitting cuts like ‘Brass Beam’ and ‘No Question’, and lusher ones like ‘A Little More’ and ‘Fade’. Such variety is welcome, but it’s difficult to settle into listening to an album like this when it can’t even seem to settle into itself.

One of Crutchfield’s strengths as a performer is her prominent voice, which allows even the vaguest of sentiments to carry weight, like “I said to you on the night that we met/ ‘I am not well,’” on Cerulean Salt standout ‘Brother Bryan’. Here, her voice is in great shape, carrying songs further than they might go otherwise. ‘Brass Beam’ is a tale of emotional abuse reminiscent of The Antlers’ ‘Two'. “Under your criticisms, self-loathing and all your doubt/ I held you up above myself trying to ride it out,” she sings, adding gravitas to each syllable. The song as a whole feels truncated, as does the album, which clocks in at 33 minutes. While plenty of albums resonate with even shorter run times, Out in the Storm feels rushed. The songs that underwhelm don’t do so because they’re not compelling, but because they don’t go the extra mile to really stick with you. The passionately strummed acoustic guitar and Crutchfield’s equally passionate singing “float on my back/ watch the purple sky” on ‘Sparks Fly’ create a moving listening experience, but the song ends abruptly, like she's singing stream-of-consciousness and suddenly ran out of ideas.

Out in the Storm is Crutchfield’s most polished album to date, with renowned producer John Agnello behind the boards and the majority recorded live with Crutchfield’s band, including twin sister and P.S. Eliot bandmate Allison Crutchfield playing keyboards and percussion. The cleaner sound is effective on the more energetic tracks, but withdrawn tracks like ‘Recite Remorse’ and closer ‘Fade’ lack the stripped-down power of ‘You’re Damaged’ or ‘Half Moon’. The production is distancing when it should be inviting. There are also moments, like the psychedelic guitar hum on ‘No Question’, that encapsulates the pitfall of doing things because you can do them, not because you should.

It’s hard to listen to Out in the Storm and not long for what could have been. Crutchfield is baring her soul and just about every song shows some signs of greatness. It comes up short, but not for a lack of trying. It’s an album all about proving yourself and your value. Crutchfield’s already proven herself as a capable singer/songwriter. She just needed to take a couple more steps to turn what could have been an unfinished masterpiece into a complete work.