Published May 25, 2020Christian Lee Hutson's Beginners, produced by indie powerhouse Phoebe Bridgers, explores the messy depths of love and growing up.
It's the L.A folk rocker's debut album, but it doesn't sound like it. These are songs written with an eye for sharp-tongued nostalgia with understated delivery.
He's been steeped in the genre — playing with Bridgers and her side project Better Oblivion Community Centre — and it shows. These are deeply introspective songs penned with a practiced hand.
Hutson's focus is on story and character. Instrumentation takes a backseat to soft-spoken musings about distancing in love ("Lose this Number"), or fractures in relationships and communication ("Talk"). It's a fine line, this kind of songwriting: often we end up with just more sad white guys trying to sing like Matt Berninger. Instead, Hutson leans toward Sufjan Stevens with his tremulous voice, just above a whisper.
"Northsiders" is instantly relatable in its exploration of growing up and dabbling cocaine ("…at my cousin's house, I'm probably addicted now") and communism ("We thought we invented it") as he deals with the blows life hands him.
And Hutson doesn't present himself as a doe-eyed innocent. In song's like "Keep you down," where his voice has a harder edge to it, he reveals his role in an ugly love story.
There's little redemption on offer here, but there is hope. Hutson finishes with "Single for the Summer" which takes the picked acoustic guitars that pervade the album and transforms it into an anthem: "Things are gonna turn around now, it's gonna happen any day now."
Beginners seems like an introduction to Hutson and his past: fears, anxieties and faults and memories. It's all packaged in a brilliant album that satisfies any cravings for well-written, subtle and resonant folk rock. (Anti)