The debut album by Joe Hutchinson is an absorbing experience. It's an album with a sense of place and story that, at first, makes the experience seem almost magical. But then you realize, it's not. You realize that, instead of opening your mind to new perspectives or experiences, you're opening yourself up to a set of familiar, familiar sounds.
You can tell that Hutchinson's music is built on the same foundation as other city-based indie rock bands, like the hard-edged droners of the D.C. hardcore scene. When he’s playing live, you’re in his same place: You’re listening to a man’s music, and, for the most part, you’re hearing his voice—a filtered voice, one that’s been edited, compressed, and manipulated throughout the recording. Sounds can be changed or altered, but the voice remains the center of attention. Or, as Hutchinson puts it in the liner notes, “I want to be the source of its source, the source of its energy, the source of its magic. I want to be the center of it.”
Hutchinson’s playing is heavily textured, as if he’s using his hands to sculpt something out of the earth. On “The Wanderer,” his voice is reduced to a low, squeaking, whispered word. “I was afraid to sing it,” he tells me. “I don’t want to be the center.” On the other three pieces, he’s joined by a jolly, elastic band. And on “The Wanderer,” he’s joined by a chorus, which, it turns out, is more powerful than his voice ever could be. “I remember a time when we were just going to have to live with each other,” he says. “We’ve got to stay with each other.” It’s the epitome of the sound that Hutchinson’s making with the guitar, and it’s the reason his work is so fascinating. The guitar is a blank canvas—it’s not a place where what you hear can be carved into words, but rather a blank canvas for the imagination to float.