William Hut – Road Star Doolittle

William Hut
Road Star Doolittle

Norway’s answer to Radiohead (at least pre-Kid A), Poor Rich Ones garnered significant acclaim for their US debut, Happy Happy Happy, last year. The centerpiece for that band’s music is the almost angelic voice of William Hut, a voice that evokes images of Thom Yorke and Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters) without sounding exactly like either. In between two world tours in support of that album, Hut managed to find the time to record his first solo album, Road Star Doolittle.
The music here isn’t drastically different from that offered by the full band, and he’s helped on instrumentation by Poor Rich One Bjorn Bunes, as well as a few others. However, Hut’s solo music does take a more melancholy direction than that taken by Poor Rich Ones, while demonstrating a kind of starkness and dreaminess that is a welcome change. Not a solo singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar by any means, the instrumentation here is very full. Lush guitars, drums, and bass accompany Hut’s lovely, slightly echoey vocals, while other instrumentation – from piano to horns and strings – help fill out the songs.
While Hut cites influences from Flaming Lips to Mercury Rev, I’m left with the impression here of earlier 4AD material, such as early Red House Painters. There is indeed a dreamy, slightly surreal quality to his softer songs, where the lush but soft guitarwork and his immaculate voice blur seamlessly, as on the opener “Scarlet,” but there are also moments of softer beauty that belie the traditional pop structure, such as the beautiful, string-laden “Belonging.” Perhaps the Flaming Lips fondness can be seen on Hut’s more poppy moments. The almost teasingly light “Bangalore Homecoming Queen” is just a dreamy romp, with no lyrics but some nice backing vocals, and the organs that drive “The Great Gospel” similarly shows a more lush pop style.
On many songs, you do get Hut’s vocals and acoustic guitar, but these things are layered in the studio to create a much more lush sound. Still, there’s hints of an old-European folk feel to “A Better View,” and some of that – perhaps hints of the band’s roots – can be heard on the more up-beat yet just-as-pretty “Dulcinea.” The stark “Wood Floors” doesn’t feel folky at all, but it is a pretty song. The closer, “Country Hut,” uses twangy guitars and less echoes, creating a subtle and moving feel.
William Hut chose a good time to release his solo debut, as US interest in his band is rising, and the Poor Rich Ones also released some of their older songs and live tracks. With more touring in the states and an accessible sound, Poor Rich Ones are sure to gain in popularity. But Hut has shown he can hold his own, releasing a stark and lovely solo album of more laid-back pop gems.