As Phoebe Bridgers’s fame grows and grows, there is a community of her friends and collaborators writing and releasing impressive albums to increased attention. It’s a musical circle that might one day be legendary. But at the minute, artists like Harrison Whitford (whose album I reviewed last year) seem happy to take a backseat to their more famous friends while writing quietly beautiful music that might not be huge, but that definitely means a lot to those who do hear it. While Harrison’s Afraid of Nothing was among my favourite albums of 2021, I was equally blown away when listening to Christian Lee Hutson’s Beginners for the first time last year (I was late to this particular party). Christian has been working with artists such as Phoebe and Matt Berninger for a while now, a valued collaborator, guitarist, and backing vocalist, but his level of personal acclaim is still minimal. There is a chance that could change with new album Quitters.
Produced by Phoebe and Conor Oberst (Mr Don’t Call Them Skate Shoes, as he’s also known), this album certainly has all the hallmarks that make the music of this small community special. Lyrically, it contends with all of them. Take the whole of ‘Sitting Up With A Sick Friend’, for example, where verses such as ‘I had my head on your lap on the roof of this house/Tipped back bottle of vodka connecting the clouds/Never worried about making anyone’s list/Do whatever you want cause God doesn’t exist’ demonstrate his exemplary skill as a storyteller. Or the amazing one liners that litter album highlight ‘Rubberneckers’ – ‘I’m a self-esteem vending machine’ being my absolutely favourite. Christian excels in meaning much more than he says with his lyrics, managing to be profound, witty, self-deprecating, and honest all at the same time. Often in a single sentence.
Sonically, and like many of the contemporaries I’ve discussed above, Christian owes a lot to predecessors such as Elliot Smith. This is often somber music but don’t let that convince you that Quitters is purely depressing. Christian’s music mixes the miserable with the uplifting. A song such as ‘Blank Check’ lifts the mood with its optimistic refrain of ‘you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do’, and even the songs that do deal in depression (such as the aforementioned ‘Sitting Up With A Sick Friend) do so with a wry humour, a sense that you might be able to avoid crying if you just have a good laugh. At other times, like on the exceptional ‘State Bird’, the writing is just downright hilarious. Starting out my discussing a game of ‘Are they siblings? Are they dating?’ that a couple are playing at a festival, it tells a funny story of the ways that people try to cling to a love that no longer remains. It’s songwriting of the highest order.
One noticeable upswing between album one and two is the addition of addictive hooks and refrains to Christian’s music. It’s as if he’s learnt to be catchy. If you spend some good time with this album, I can promise you that there will be lines that will swim round your head for days – ‘If you tell a lie for long enough then it becomes the truth’ from ‘Rubberneckers’, ‘Something big is coming/I don’t know what it is yet’ from ‘Cherry’, ‘I don’t think that this is working’ from ‘State Bird’, and ‘You are a mystery to me/There is no mystery to me’ from ‘Creature Feature’ to name just a few. What this suggests to me is that, as this community of songwriters and artists continues to thrive together, already talented people such as Christian are picking up new things and developing all the time. And if the music is already this enthralling, I can’t wait to hear what they’re all putting out in ten years’ time.
This association with Phoebe Bridgers, Conor Oberst, Matt Berninger and others can only be a help to the career of an artist such as Christian Lee Hutson. But I’ll end by saying that it shouldn’t define him. Someone who can write and perform an album as gorgeous as this one deserves all the praise and acclaim for themselves, and it is to be hoped that they take the fair share of the limelight that is currently shining on this productive and exciting corner of the musical map. Quitters is a stellar addition to their armoury.
Words by Fran Slater