Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Quitters proves that Christian Lee Hutson could be one of his generations strongest songwriters

Release date: 01 April 2022
Clh quitters art
03 April 2022, 08:15 Written by Tom Williams
There are few artistic collaborations that make as much intrinsic sense as that between Phoebe Bridgers and Christian Lee Hutson; both are California-based, millennial songwriters with uniquely lilting voices, a sardonic sense of humour and a shared central source of inspiration – Elliott Smith. For Hutson’s second album Quitters, Bridgers once again takes the reins of production, while Hutson uses a largely acoustic soundscape to backdrop tales of generational unease and strained love.

Anyone looking for evidence of shared musical DNA between Bridgers and Huston will find it within the first minute of opener “Strawberry Lemonade” – a song loosely about dreaming, that sees Hutson sing of everything from “a baby boomer’s last acid trip” to the daily toil of his “evil fucking life”. He sings with an acute sense of necessary detachment; of someone with no choice but to dissociate from their most painful memories in order to move forward.

Some may dismiss Hutson as a sort-of-imitation Phoebe Bridgers act, which would be unfair given that he has shaped her music as much as she has shaped his (Hutson has writing credits on almost half the songs on Punisher). Nevertheless, the truth remains that Punisher has cast a far bigger shadow over the world of indie-rock than anything Hutson has released thus far – undoubtedly many will only have discovered Quitters because of Bridgers involvement in it. Given this and the obvious similarities between Bridgers and Hutson’s music, it seems inevitable that Punisher is the gold standard by which most will compare Hutson’s second full-length.

It’s not an enviable position to be in – Punisher is an indie landmark that few records can live up to – and in its weaker moments, Quitters can feel like a watered down version of that record. Hutson’s off-kilter deadpan observations (“California’s beautiful / I bet some people don’t think so”, “This is the church, this is steamroller”) often feel less incisive than Punisher’s best lines (“You’re sick and you’re married / And you might be dying / But you’re holding me like water in your hands”).

Conversely, Quitters excels when Hutson is unafraid to embrace a musical identity unmistakably his own. Hutson’s songwriting is at its best when it’s sprawling, earnest and conversationalist. “And I am an embarrassment / Shirt and tie, like pulling teeth / He’s everything I’ll never be”, Hutson sings on “Endangered Birds”, sizing himself up in real time against a love interest’s prospective partner. Later in the song, he offers some of the album’s richest imagery in a deft couplet: “I’m peeking through the bandages / To see if I can handle it”.

In moments like these, Hutson’s music begins to look less like that of Bridgers and instead more closely resembles that of fellow Bridgers collaborator Lucy Dacus, as he abandons macro-observations in favour of close-up examinations of trying to carry one’s self through life even as they feel as though they’re falling apart in real time. “Sometimes you wish you’d just randomly die / I don’t know why”, he sings on “Sitting Up With a Sick Friend”; hopeless and out-of-solutions in the face of another’s suffering. On “State Bird”, he repeats “I don’t think that this is working” a total of eight times – each repetition conjuring up the sense of claustrophobia and anxiety that comes with running into brick wall after brick wall.

As Quitters progresses, it feels as though we get closer and closer to discovering who the real Christian Lee Hutson is. In the album’s second half, the truths become darker and revelation becomes harder to stumble upon. “Something big is coming / I don’t know what it is yet”, he sings on “Cherry”, as an organ rises to the forefront of the mix and suddenly makes the stakes feel higher. Elsewhere, Hutson deconstructs an age-imbalanced relationship with one haunting line: “I think I was suicidal / Before you were even born”. It’s a special kind of songwriter who can make you feel so viscerally unnerved with just two lines.

Things become frayed yet again of “Teddy’s Song” – a collage of memories that recalls Taylor Swift in its keen eye for details (“Asleep with the radio next to the bed on the floor / ‘Cause it sounds like my parents talking through the door”). The song is the sound of a relationship in metamorphosis, as loving frustration transforms into straightforward resentment – “You talk all the time and somehow you say nothing / You’re everything wrong with this horrible country”, he sings in, perhaps, the album’s most pointed moment.

These are the album’s best moments, where Hutson drops the wit and arch humour in favour of a stream-of-consciousness approach that embraces all of life’s messiness – even down to Hutson abruptly changing his tune mid-song. On the penultimate track, Hutson drops any sense of remaining composure when confronted by his demons. “Okay, okay I confess / I’m not a work in progress / All my thoughts are illegal / I’m not safe around people / I have always been evil”, he sprawls at an ever-more-hurried pace. It’s a rare definitive moment on an album that often gets consumed into a pleasant fog. It proves that when Hutson is at his most unguarded and vulnerable, he makes for one of his generation’s strongest songwriters.

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