Album: Christian Lee Hutson – Quitters review

by Ben McLellan

Picking up where Beginners left off, Christian Lee Hutson invites us back into his unique introspection

Following a relatively brief two year gap from his third album – Beginners – comes Christian Lee Hutson’s second official offering, Quitters. Once again, production is helmed by ‘best friend’, Phoebe Bridgers, this time as a co-effort alongside Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst.

Like a Pitchfolk Wilburys, the trio have previously dovetailed and collaborated in some fashion, including 2019s Better Oblivion Community Center, and it shows. The production serves Hutson’s stylings perfectly. Much is carried over from Beginners sonically; doubled up vocals evoke Elliott Smith, and wistful, grunge-tinged folk melodies recall peak Eels. However, there is also departure and development; most notably with single, Rubberneckers, and the sublime, CreatureFeature, which is driven by understated electric drum loops, and underpinned by Bridgers’ intuitive, inventive backing vocals. There’s more ornate instrumentation features on Age Difference, which features horn and guitar bathed in reverb.

Early single, Strawberry Lemonade, opens the album and sets the tone – initially in restrained fashion, detailing a dreamlike kaleidoscope of narratives. The song builds impressively from intimate acoustic ballad into a brilliant explosive coda, with the mantra, ‘There’s a consolation prize, in the corner of my mind‘. This is then repeated both lyrically and melodically with album closer, Triple Axl. It’s a lovely device – a bookend executed subtly to give the album cohesion without being overtly ‘concept’.

There’s also both thematic and lyrical continuity with Beginners: nostalgia in the face of encroaching middle age and responsibility; a longing for the past, beautifully evoked in intricate detail in couplets like ‘In my little room on Rostery, Step-dad reading Treasure Island to me’; and a fearlessness in exploring and confronting the darkness within himself and his characters. Penultimate track, OC Demon, confesses, ‘I’m not safe around people, I have always been evil,‘ to a buoyant juxtaposition of acoustic fingerpicking and distorted guitar.

However, Quitters feels a little more playful than its predecessor; densely woven vignettes, often sung in the first person, paint the geography and characters that inhabit Hutson’s California: introspection via voyeurism. Lyrically, he remains masterful: Wry, playful takes on cliche, ‘When life gives you a lemon, cut a hole in it, smoke some resin,‘ sit alongside moments of genuine profundity, ‘Pain is a way you can move through time.

There feels like much to unpack from Quitters, but it remains a worthy follow up to its brilliant predecessor.

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