[20 July 2008]
Upon its initial release in August of 2007, Sounds Like This entered the iTunes Top 10 almost instantly after celeb blogger Perez Hilton dropped Eric Hutchinson’s name on his blog. The kicker? After getting dropped from his label midway through the production of the album, Sounds Like This almost didn’t get made. But Hutchinson decided to release the album on his own label, Let’s Break Records, making it the highest-charting album by an unsigned artist in the history of iTunes. This past March, Hutchinson signed on with Warner Bros. to re-release the album on a major label. It seems strange that an artist who was so independently successful ended up bowing down to the corporate music machine, but as Hutchinson defended his decision in a Washington Post interview, “All these bands doing it themselves, like Radiohead and Madonna—people forget that a lot of people have only heard of them because major labels dumped a lot of money into [promoting] them. I still look at myself as an independent artist.”
Regardless of the means by which Sounds Like This was brought to the public, it is a fortunate thing that it was. At first the album seems to merely mold itself into a genre that so many other modern artists have already shaped, from Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz to John Mayer and Ben Folds. This breed of music goes by any number of classifications, but whether we call it singer-songwriter, sandal rock, or blues-driven pop, the results are generally much of the same. Snappy choruses and bluesy piano or guitar chords are complemented by pseudo-profound lyrics. The artists often relate their sound to pioneers like the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Billy Joel, but generally the music never lives up to the standard of its influences. Unlike his contemporaries, Eric Hutchinson has broken through the limits of a stale genre and created a piece of pop that is refreshingly inventive and uniquely soulful.
Sounds Like This is by no means a seamless album, but when it occasionally falls victim to trite lyrics and predictable song forms, it quickly redeems itself in moments of real transcendence. Hutchinson’s creative arrangements combine with quality production to result in a tight, crisp sound that provides powerful direction for Hutchinson’s delectable choruses. The highlights are sprinkled throughout, as nearly every track is distinct in feel, with no song ever merely restating the one before it. The single “Rock & Roll” is surely the catchiest track, representative of Hutchinson’s knack for hooks. But he proves himself to be more than just a melody-maker; his strong writing is displayed on “You Don’t Have to Believe Me”, with saxophone, keyboards, and guitar combining for a surprisingly raw sound. Similarly powerful is the moving bridge of “It Hasn’t Been Long Enough”. This song, while melodically, harmonically, and structurally completely within the box, is energized by the pure strength of the vocals. Indeed, the entire album is enhanced by subtle dynamism of Hutchinson’s voice.
Fans of artists like Ben Folds and Jason Mraz should listen to Sounds Like This straight away. If we compare Hutchinson in the realm of the singer-songwriter, then he is clearly a more talented singer and more innovative songwriter than any of his contemporaries. Granted, there are many music listeners that despise even the notion of artists that sound like Ben Folds, and probably nothing will win those individuals over. But for everyone else, it is worth giving Sounds Like This a try—smart arrangements and Hutchinson’s bold charm combine to make it this summer’s most guilt-free guilty pleasure.