Suspended Animation

Though Alec Hutson’s immense musical range has been oft-lauded by peers, producers, critics, and audiences, it’s never been as apparent or as effective as on his forthcoming release  Suspended Animation. The two-part EP –written, recorded, and produced by Hutson and his collaborators from the relatively-safe confines of their home studios, files bounced between them via email– is an internal dialogue, the Hopeful Hutson grappling with his grieving alter-ego, the two halves of the quarantine-era human in dueling lock-step. Listening to the album, it’s easy to imagine all the many Alec Hutsons ( the jubilant, the crackpot, the angsty, the lost) who marched into that studio, picked up a guitar, sat down at the piano, leaned forward into the mic, and began to play, day after day.

The very first lines we hear, on initial track “Dreams,” invite us in there with him. Just us and Hutson, together in his private headspace, as he asks us to “Close the door/turn off the light/you got me waiting/ dreaming all night.” The rest of the album plays out in the intimacy of that darkness. In here, in Hutson’s head, we’re exposed to a great many secrets, frames of minds and memories and neuroses. But he wants us to stay. It’s vital. He almost begs us to stick around, continuing, “But it’s youuuuuuuuuu.” 

Throughout Part 1, Hutson keeps us rapt with little more than his acoustic guitar, showcasing his mastery of the instrument’s many faces. Across four toe-tapping melodies, Hutson and his six strings rummage through his relationships and possessions and family, looking for misplaced meaning. “I got a car and it runs all right/ but it’s good, good enough for me…I got a girl, she’s around sometimes/ but it’s good, good enough for me,” he chants on “33”, scrounging for gratitude in a reality far removed from his high hopes and expectations. Later, on tertiary track “Homebody,” Hutson walks along a beach with his mother, strange physical barriers –masks and gloves, the threat of infection– between them. “I miss my mama dearly,” he sings, “though I can see her nearly/ but I can’t hold her to me/ and she can’t see me speak.” That lost sense of normalcy is further examined on the ensuing track, the explosive, uproarious “Hope.” On it, Hutson seems not just enlightened but defiant when he sings “Patience, pleasure, money and time/ all the things I hoped were mine/ maybe all I really need/ is hidden right in front of me.”

That realization seems a major step forward, though On Part 2, the assertion breaks down. This is the moody, cinematic, piano-driven Dr. Jekyll to Part 1’s rambunctious Mr. Hyde. Even “Poutine, Today,” the quasi-comedic opening track belies a dark truth: “Shipped expressly to your door/ you don’t have to be hungry anymore,” a commercialized Hutson sings. Except there’s no end to the hunger: for the past, for happier times with a lover, for when life didn’t feel so rote and repetitive. That ennui is the engine which drives songs “Rotor,” (“Climbing up a ladder/ you’ve been down before.”), “Etonia” (“Sing me memories/ we were kids/ sing me demons from my past.”), and “Battle of the Ego,” which chronicles the humdrum heartaches of two oft-quarreling lovers. Throughout “Battle,” the album’s final track, Hutson incessantly repeats the refrain, “No, it doesn’t have to be/ a battle of the ego/ listen to the music/ what is there to lose?” He never answers that question, just asks it again and again into the ether, a man screaming into the abyss, waiting for it to scream back, willing it to.

It never does. How could it? That would mean answers to all Suspended Animation’s questions, themes laid out neatly for our perusal, and we all go home satisfied. But this is an  ambiguous masterpiece of an album, one that searches for answers it knows none of us have. “This is not how I thought it would all play out/ when they asked me where I wanted to be,” he belts on “33.” Did any of us then? Do any of us now? Where are we exactly? Hutson clearly wants to know. So he’s crafted an entire album of highs and lows, daydreams and epiphanies, seeking resolution, restitution, reprieve.

He never seems to find it, but my, my, how compelling it is, listening to him try.

 

– Maxwell Cohen

All Music

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