“I’m gonna hurt you, and myself too / Cos that’s the only thing that I know how to do,” sings California based singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hutson in 'Twin Soul'. The line captures the sentiment of 'Beginners', an album which explores all forms of pain: self-inflicted, inflicted on others, the pain of loss, love, and growing up.
Much like his close friend - and 'Beginners’ producer - Phoebe Bridgers, Hutson has a knack for detail, writing with such hyper specificity that listening can feel like reading his journal, or being a fly on the wall in a therapy session. His depictions of relationships, whether it’s a fractious one with a parent (on 'Talk') or an emotionally abusive one with a partner (on 'Keep You Down'), are nuanced and anecdotal, making them all the more devastating.
It’s musical storytelling at its finest, and tracks like 'Northsiders' - which laments the death of a teenage sweetheart - and 'Atheists' - the album’s poignant opener - set him alongside lyricists such as Sufjan Stevens, Andy Shauf, and Kevin Morby.
Bridgers’ production adds a finesse which Hutson’s earlier recordings have lacked, and fans will spot her influence a mile off; from the perfectly textured trumpet and string sections (arranged, as they were on Bridgers’ new album 'Punisher', by Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott), to drone like synth lines, and sprawling, triumphant outros.
Like 'Punisher', Beginners has a distinct sonic landscape, with recurring motifs and textures allowing upbeat tracks like 'Get The Old Band Back Together' to sit alongside the melancholic 'Seven Lakes' whilst still feeling cohesive.
That the songs sometimes verge on twee Americana, and the lyrics can be self-deprecating to the point of softboi cliche (on 'Lose This Number' particularly) will undoubtedly put off some listeners, but there’s an honesty and humanity to these songs which prevails.
Vulnerable, complex and beautiful, it is an album that gets richer with every listen, and cements Hutson’s status as a songwriter to take notice of.
Words: Jess Wrigglesworth
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