Album: Christian Lee Hutson – Beginners review

by Tobias Moore

Masterful in its guise, Christian Lee Hutson’s Beginners has a depth and accessibility that makes it an album fitting for numerous listening experiences.

Fused with country warmth, classical arrangements and heartland songwriting, it is a record full of character. Produced and featuring Phoebe Bridgers, the storytelling is vivid – and blending rational thought with exaggerated emotion, Hutson documents a path of progression into adulthood that will resonate with many. Mirrored through the development of timbre, when coupled with Hutson’s lyrical candour, a bond of friendship blossoms.

Polite in its introduction, the opening numbers offer a steady inroad. Dressed in a gentle serenade of childlike guitars, Atheist and Talk invoke a sense of nostalgia fitting of a Pixar production directed by Sufjan Stevens. But despite the fairy tale prologue, inklings of darkness soon appear in Lose This Number. Through Bridgers’ vocal interjections, and the impending stomps of percussion, the regret of a track Hutson describes as ‘a fixation on the past’ becomes apparent.

As the album grows, so does the plot. What started with an almost nursery like playfulness soon opens up to the trials and tribulations of teenage angst. Northsiders is the epitome of this. As Hutson reminisces over shared pastimes, as ‘Morrissey apologists’ and ‘Amateur psychologists’, the true genius of his lyrical craftsmanship is showcased. From buoyant to tear jerking at the flip of a switch, his understated wit cuts through.

While not apparent on first listen, in hindsight, Twin Soul is a welcome refreshment. Nautical in tonality, it offers a submersion from the album that I never knew I needed. As you float through the coral lit track, its array of sonar beeps place you into a state of tranquility – with the addition of colourful trumpets that peacock across the piece, a sense of ‘feel good’ is instilled.

Yet the album does not follow a straightforward pathway to closure that Twin Soul may have alluded to. In what personally was one of the most intense vocal shows of the year, penultimate track, Keep You Down, provides a raw reemergence back into reality. Beautiful yet almost traumatic, Hutson and Bridgers engage in a swan song of pure emotion. Reminiscent of Michael Stipe, this piece adds a previously unseen dimension to Hutson’s already impressive skill set. Unfiltered, provocative and deeply intimate, it is truly touching.

Regal and relaxing, the album is a honest yet romantic portrayal of adolescence and the stories that come with it. As the album heads to its sunset under the fanfare of the final track, Single for the Summer, there is a genuine sense of hope –  the album maturing into something far more complex than what appeared at first glance, and ironic for an album titled Beginner. Despite Hutson’s softly spoken narrative, what’s so special about this body of work is its versatility. Not once do you feel pressured to follow its trail. Hutson sets out the way, yet encourages adventure. What at first seemed like a simply enjoyable album, soon becomes an emotional staple.

Secret Meeting score: 84

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