I am a fan of strange songs with hooks, which no doubt explains my fondness for Tom Waits, Jane Siberry, and They Might Be Giants, among others. Knowing how to be both weird and catchy is rare gift—it requires both smarts and humor—and surely weeds out both the uninformed and the formulaic.
No stranger to idiosyncrasy—her first band’s first release was named “worst album of the year” by a major Swedish rock magazine, according to Allmusic.com—Jenny Wilson sings and arranges with whimsy and determination and little concern for convention. While grounding her songs somewhere within an R&B-like setting, Wilson has no apparent interest in creating either an Amy Winehouse-style homage or a Dirty Projectors-esque deconstruction. Lord knows where the marimba came from but it works, as does the back-and-forth tension between the semi-minimalist verse and the (almost) sing-along chorus. The chorus is in fact one big inscrutable delight, both sticking in your head and continually running from it: there’s the hook-y moment at the beginning, with the words “If I…,” but see how it tails off into lyrics that are difficult to follow and the musical equivalent of a run-on sentence. It’s very engaging somehow.
“Hardships!” is the name of Wilson’s first U.S. release, which came out in late August on her own Gold Medal Recordings label. (The album was previously released in Europe in 2009.) This so-called “gospel version” of the title track is the only free and legal MP3 available so far; it has a slightly different instrumental accompaniment than the original and augments her multi-tracked voice with forceful, gospel-choir-ish backing vocals that replace a prominent violin that is now nowhere to be heard. MP3 via IAMSOUND Records, which is distributing the album’s first single, “Like a Fading Rainbow” (good song too); “Hardships (Gospel Version)” is the b-side.