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Christian Fennesz & Jim O'Rourke, "It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry"

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cover imageOver the years, I have come to be extremely wary of any collaborative releases involving artists I like, as all they tend to fall into one of two categories: disappointing compromises or (much more frequently) tossed-off improvisations.  Consequently, I did not have particularly high hopes for this album, particularly since so many recent Fenn O’Berg releases have failed to live up to their enormous potential.  Happily, however, It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry largely delivers upon the promise heralded by its luminous participants.  Given that Fennesz has a much more distinctive aesthetic than the chameleonic O’Rourke, it is not surprising at all that this sounds a hell of a lot like a Fennesz album at times, but the line separating laptop-era O’Rourke from Fennesz is a very blurry and narrow one.  In any case, this is quite a strong album, albeit one that starts to lag a bit in the second half.

Editions Mego

Suspiciously, this album is divided into two longform pieces that each clock in at around twenty minutes, an arrangement that usually smacks of improvisatory origins.  If that is indeed how these pieces originated, however, Fennesz and O'Rourke definitely did a fine job covering their tracks when they edited everything together, as both "I Just Want You to Stay" and "Wouldn’t Wanna Be Swept Away" (for the most part, anyway) both feel like gorgeously lush and deliberate compositions that follow a coherent arc.  There is definitely a drone-like drifting amorphousness running throughout the entire album, but the ebbing and flowing is too effective to be purely spontaneous, as is the vibrant interplay between the various elements.

The opening "I Just Want You to Stay" begins with warm, woozy guitar swells that sometimes sound like an EBow and other times seem like pedal steel, though any sense of bliss is soon curdled by some rather grinding and dissonant textures that start to creep up through the haze.  For a while it seems like those darker elements are going to take over the piece, but they unexpectedly dissolve into a beautiful vista of lush exhalation-like chords, watery shimmer, and a tapestry of distorted guitar arpeggios that accumulate to a fuzzed-out roar.  Gradually, Fennesz makes his presence more prominent, however, as the piece coheres into a stuttering, pixelated melody that sounds like a malfunctioning synthesizer while guitar swells gently undulate in the background like passing clouds.  Throughout it all, the duo manage to strike a perfect balance between warmth, beauty, and controlled violence: the piece may be pretty, but some broken, corroded, and gnarled touches are always gnawing at its edges right up until the unexpectedly dreamy Endless Summer-esque coda of multilayered laptop heaven.

"Wouldn’t Wanna Be Swept Away" opens with a very different tone, as thick, sleepy "vintage synth" tones unfold a melancholy motif colored by gentle guitar shimmer and hiss.  Slowly, however, it transforms into more guitar-based fare, as heavily processed and ringing shoegaze-damaged arpeggios form a backdrop to O'Rourke's languorously sliding pedal steel.  In fact, it sounds a lot like two separate and artfully competing songs, as the more frenzied and distorted guitars seem to constantly threaten to eclipse the pedal steel with their engulfing roar.  That creates quite an effective tension before the entire piece seems to get sucked into a black hole of watery, burbling psychedelia.  Unsurprisingly, that does not proceed predictably either, as the more New Age-y atmosphere soon finds itself beset by some more ominous and space-y textures.  Later, it transforms yet again into something resembling a deconstructed rock song embellished by fluttering, warbling, and pitch-shifting synth tones.  I suppose it works on at least one level, as it has a definite slow-motion, fragmented, and druggy appeal, but it is a bit too meandering for my taste.  Also, O’Rourke and Fennesz do not pull an unexpected rabbit out of their hat at the end like they did with "I Just Want You to Stay."

While I like the controlled storm of guitars at the beginning of "Swept Away" quite a lot, the piece only succeeds as a collection of inspired moments rather than as a composition.  It definitely feels like Fennesz and O’Rourke had more time to fill than they had ideas with that one, as it seems like they were running out the clock a bit and allowed some themes to conspicuously overstay their welcome.  Consequently, the real meat of this album is the absolutely sublime “I Just Want You to Stay,” which totally justifies the album’s existence by itself.  Aside from that, the secondary appeal of It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry lies in how simultaneously similar and dissimilar this album sounds to each artist's solo work, as it is rare treat to experience a more loose and extended strain of Fennesz's vision and Jim O’Rourke is the perfect foil for such an outing.  He is probably the perfect foil for just about any musical endeavor, actually.  While I wish the duo had spent more time perfecting the album’s second half, I suppose Christian Fennesz could not linger around Tokyo forever and a mostly great album that limps to a close is still a mostly great album.

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Last Updated on Friday, 08 July 2016 08:05  


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