Hearing Aide: Huetensil ‘Black and White’

black&whiteHuetensil has just released his debut album, Black & White, available on a digital-only format. Huetensil is the alter-ego of tri-cities based Hugh Wygmans, who is also the front man of prog-monsters, Question of Honour. Wygmans is a singer/songwriter/guitarist hoping to expand his listening area beyond the 100 plus radio stations in eight countries he’s been played on in his different stage personas. Very impressive as an artist that handles all ends of his recordings; performing, mixing, editing, producing and mastering this album at Shadow Planet Studios. Wygmans wrote and arranged everything performed by Huetensil (vocals, guitars, bass, programming drums/bass) here besides the co-arrangement of “Let’s Pretend” with David Wygmans and Ken Pitchford. Additional performers credited are Michael Wu: bass guitar on “Nothin’”, David Wygmans: side stick on “Maybe It’s Time” and additional background vocals on “Wake Me Up” by Brent Ochai, Carrie Ochai and Marty Wygmans.

It’s notable that Wygmans really has his character and career presentation together better than most I’ve encountered. A well presented one-sheet, lyric sheets, access to hi-resolution pictures and artwork through his website plus a web address for Huetensil. Having had the opportunity to review the last release from his prog band, I was eager to hear this solo outing as his alter-ego, Huetensil, he’s self-described as a “power-pop musician with a hard edge and an indie singer/songwriter ethic”. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to take a Bowiesque leap like this, the following are my thoughts on its success.

“Want Too Much” is the opener and it’s evident quickly that Huetensil has some vocal gymnastics in store. His range is clear and the layered vocals at the end illustrate the potential of his power-pop proclivity. His emotive delivery is clear, rising above his multi-tiered guitar tracks, accenting the changes, especially verse to chorus. “Last Night” hits the target dead-center, a rave-up rocker illuminating the difference between introspection and introversion, then extraversion. There’s something my ears keep listening for that isn’t there, well, more on that as we go.

“Tonight (The Carbon Wars)” gives Huetensil the chance to riff a bit harder, ripping a nice solo as his topical dexterity expands into another broad field. There’s a sense of Billy Corgan in his raspy delivery overall, but it bites a bit harder into the matter here. Like many great rock songs, the meaning is oblique despite the title, but the chorus speaks of societal ambiguity and it stings! “Executioner’s Song” switches gears a bit, a give and take from slow verse to driving chorus, relenting to an inner truth while forging ahead versus the draw to stay. There’s a growing tense connection between the compositions, it’s evident Huetensil’s thoughts blend, reflect and color each other in tones. Like “Fear & Longing”, a level of desperation from the antagonist while the protagonist searches for something deeper as if nothing is available. The ebb and flow from sweet verse to dramatic chorus is distinct and creates a narrative of sorts between the characters distinguished as melody and hook. There’s something familiar in the verse, but it’s elusive, and that’s very cool. One thing is certain, Huetensil’s dexterity, whether vocally or lyrically is masterful, he switches easily to falsetto, not losing strength or bite. Maybe it’s a Geddy Lee level of influence happening, either way, it’s undeniable.

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“Nothin’” jumps a little funky with the wah pedal rhythm, Michael Wu’s bass driving the bottom and the horn blasts. It seems to be a metaphor shaped from an artist’s joy and frustration versus the same in any relationship that truly means something. Yet again, the listener is allowed to read himself into the story line. “Mr. Curry’s Troubles (The Ballad of Edward Snowden) has a XTC/Andy Partridge feel, the vocal read and the acoustic pushing the rhythm. The subject is topical, intriguing and pertinent, something I wish we’d here more of from younger artists. It’s refreshing in it’s candor, like “Tonight (The Carbon Wars)”. Continuing with the acoustic theme, “Simple” has a sweet refrain that enjoys the support of the bass line. Another facet of Huetensil’s gem, a softer side indeed. The “baaa” harmonies at the end are particularly outstanding!

“Maybe It’s Time” is a political anthem that speaks for the masses. The vocal production is borderline brilliant, the harmony tones and overlaps are pristine while proclaiming, “(Time for a change) Maybe it’s time for a radical change. (Alteration) Something more than a slight alteration. (Tear down the stage) Maybe it’s time to tear down the stage. Replace all the broken pieces. End this conflagration.” It’s has the sweetness and tart of a Rundgren composition, Huetensil’s production and mixing values reach a high here and set a deadly ear-worm! David Wyman’s “side stick” technique lends a metronome feel with a sense of a march, very nice twist. “Wake Me Up” is a desperate call from a comatose man, a remarkable perspective voiced into a dreamy chorus filled with the guest vocalists. In a straight-up power-pop format the rhythm guitar, bass and vocals blend so well. When’s the last time you heard hoosegow rhymed with Moscow and no ciao?

“Let’s Pretend” spits defiant dissonance against a wall of reality, a Black Sabbath-like rhythm guitar mixed with Huetensil’s conflicted anguish. The closer appropriately wraps the political side into a rage filled scream against the government. It smacks of what so many feel while witnessing the war machine at work. I’m hoping it’s a retroactive look at things because it speaks of GWB to me, but that’s my read.

You should take a listen for yourself. Huetensil is energetic, enthusiastic and the level of work put in this work is notable. This kind of production doesn’t happen overnight, shouldn’t be taken lightly and deserves recognition. If I had one wish for Huetensil it would be live drums. While the programming is excellent and the timing is right on, it misses on the feel. Many things can run under the surface, but this isn’t one of them. Well done and well-played Huetensil, well-played!

Key Tracks: Let’s Pretend, Maybe It’s Time, and Nothin