Christian Lee Hutson

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Quitters Review

by Mark Deming

"California's beautiful/I bet some people don't think so." So begins the song "Endangered Birds," where Christian Lee Hutson contemplates various sorts of disappointment and emotional ache as he takes in the grandeur of the Golden State. It's a good example of the balance between the warmth of love and the cool of its frequent defeat that dominates 2022's Quitters, Hutson's fourth album and second for Anti-. Hutson has a soft, bittersweet voice that draws the listener in instinctively, an instrument that sounds confessional even when he's making pithy observations about his family, his exes, his past, and the various annoyances that come with being an adult. Randy Newman once stated that his goal was to create a nice sound with a nasty intent, and on Quitters, Hutson achieves something quite similar. The hush of his voice and the low-key indie folk arrangements give this material a sweetly sad beauty that puts a pleasing veneer over Hutson's lyrics that sometimes match and just as often betray a dark wit and unforgiving bitterness (though the abrasive guitar solo in "Blank Check," the slightly-too-loud Mellotron in "Back Cat," and the sound collage and suggestions of incest in "State Bird" briefly give the game away). Hutson's friends and occasional collaborators Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst produced Quitters, and while there are echoes of their own musical viewpoints here, they also know how to give Hutson what he needs in the studio, and they help him navigate the balance between the gentle and the sharp impressively well. The production and arrangements also hit a sweet spot between tidiness and a purposeful messiness that's a wise match for the emotional spectrum of the songs. Christian Lee Hutson manages to make you care about him and his life even as he artfully reveals his darkest side on Quitters, and while it's hard to tell if he thinks California really is beautiful or if he's one of the doubters, he tells his stories well enough that you'll follow this LP to the end as you try to figure it out.

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