Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Jenny Wilson's Hardships. Watch the video for "Like a Fading Rainbow," buy the album and read Schnipper’s thoughts on it after the jump.
I started playing saxophone because of Bill Clinton and Lisa Simpson. I was in fifth grade, the year the elementary school let kids start playing wind instruments. I was not very good, did not take particularly good care of the saxophone. I did learn to read music fairly quickly and had a decent sense of rhythm, but there was never any pizazz in my playing. Saxophone was not, it turns out, very cool. The years I played happened to run concurrent with the years I got deeply interested in music, much of which was very fast hardcore. What made one bad hardcore band worse than another, it turned out, was their lack of an aggressive, skilled drummer. At some point I realized I had taken up the wrong instrument, but it was too late to switch. Four years after I started playing, to no one’s disappointment, I quit saxophone. I never learned to play the drums.
Frustrated, lately I've been listening to Man is the Bastard. They are a band I listened to starting when I was 13 or 14 in the same situation, in need of some cathartic channeling. “Tomb Ride” is the song that always delivers, drummer pummeling like a tweaked out jazz musician. The band was all rhythm, two basses and drums with some extra electronics for decoration. It’s a lot of power. Even now, it’s impossible to listen without playing some kind of air drums. Not that I have any idea how to coordinate my movements with where the drums would go.
I wrote a column about Man is the Bastard last year and not once did I use the word drums. Though I have always so strongly identified my musical needs with those of the timekeeper and his desires, I almost never highlight that as my powering impetus to musical enjoyment. The few times I’ve written about drums specifically (like in this—sort of weird looking back on it—piece about Black Dice and repetition) it’s been less about their role in the overall setting in the band than their unique place as an outsider to the music. I did finally figure out that the reason I like Grizzly Bear so much isn’t really the pretty harmonies but that Chris Bear is a beast on the ride cymbal. But I also wrote a feature about them in our magazine and mentioned him only to talk about his role in the band’s business affairs.
Why do the drums never get their fair shake? Do I take them for granted? The past few days, I tried to think about songs and music that moved me because of their drums and, honestly, came up way shorter than I would have bet on. I have a steady sense of rhythm and a total crush on anyone who can play a solid blast beat, the short shrift is peculiar.
In our summer issue of the magazine, I wrote a brief piece about Swedish musician Jenny Wilson. I was interested in her initially because she looked like an insane weirdo on the cover of a Danish magazine. Then I heard her most recent solo album, Hardships, and found out she has the same “tiny percussion” fetish as many hippie-ish jazz musicians of the late sixties and seventies. “Like a Fading Rainbow,” my favorite song from the album, begins with Wilson singing echoed and alone before announcing the song's arrival with a perky ding of a triangle. From there, the song uses piano, what sounds like a child’s xylophone, various hand drums, shakers, a trilling tongue and a smattering of other things someone decided to tinker with. The song’s lyrics are actually somewhat sullen, about isolation and a dearth of everything, but Wilson is entirely peppy surrounded by this lightly pounding group sheen. But, you know what, what I wrote in the story is that her voice was truly the star: “It’s [Wilson’s] cascading vocals over this tight puzzle that stand out. It’s not so much that the instrumentation is secondary, it’s that it’s an appropriately modest supporting cast to her voice’s very bright star.” They can’t be equals? Not to renege, but man, give the drummer some.
The next song on Hardships, “Clattering Hooves” begins with finger snaps and a piano lounge Wilson singing smooth introductions before a ridiculous but pretty awesome wind chime is set off. You know, I listened to Wilson’s previous album, Love and Youth, and I wasn’t that into it. She’s got an incredible voice, but with Love and Youth’s more traditional rock backing it doesn’t have the same exotic glamor.
I recently saw Holly Miranda play. Her band consists of her on guitar and occasional jingle bells and another guy on guitar or bass, I don’t even remember. Her voice, too, is fairly extraordinary, but, as my friend said, it felt like she was in a band without a drummer. And so I spent most of the set thinking about how bad I had to piss.