Christian Fennesz and Jim O'Rourke: It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry

The first duo collaboration between Fennesz and O'Rourke turns out to be a good one, but only when they give each other the room to make this sound more like a conversation than a shouting match.

Christian Fennesz and Jim O'Rourke

It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry

US Release: 2016-06-24
Label: Editions Mego
UK Release: 2016-06-24
Label Website

Christian Fennesz and Jim O'Rourke both have some long-standing success collaborating. They've both got their own brilliant solo work, but Fennesz also recorded a remarkable album with Sparklehorse for the In the Fishtank series, made the great Knoxville record with Davie Daniell and Tony Buck, and has made music with the likes of Sakamoto and (like O'Rourke) Oren Ambarchi. O'Rourke has collaborated with, mixed, or produced a virtual who's-who of influential modern music acts, from Sonic Youth to Wilco to John Fahey the Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop to Smog to you get the idea. Fennesz and O'Rourke have also played together, recording a series of five albums with Peter Rehberg under the name Fenn O'Berg.

The point is, these guys know how to play well with others, which brings us to It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry, the first duo collaboration between Fennesz and O'Rourke. The album contains two side-long pieces, giving the pair two extended cuts to stretch out on and play off of each other. The first cut, "I Just Want You to Stay" runs 18 minutes and builds slowly, patiently, and, in the end, satisfyingly. O'Rourke's pedal steel blooms quietly to life at the track's start, melting out into spaces where synths and atmospherics nip at its edges. The track shows a natural chemistry and communication. The song, in feel if not in sound, hearkens back to the careful use of space on O'Rourke's brilliant LP, The Visitor. Fennesz builds a haunting cloud of faint sound around O'Rourke's guitar, which then disappears for a while, yielding to other treated guitars, to melting keys dripping in the background, and to—eventually—the growing squal of Fennesz's wall of sound. Feedback fills all the dark corners. Angular guitars slash through the quiet. Synthesizers seem to breathe noise.

The song peaks with these sounds and then clears out again, mining the echoes around these ghostly sounds for something faint and clear, something sweetly harmonic. If the build-peak-fade construction seems familiar to this kind of extended experiment, in these two masters' hands, the effect is beautiful. On the track, Fennesz seems to yield the aesthetic to O'Rourke, trusting his long-established knack for the shape sounds should take, or for the spaces it shouldn't necessarily take up.

The balance shifts on "Wouldn't Wanna Be Swept Away", and the results suffer a bit as a consequence. The quieter parts of this track are still interesting. The careful interplay of high keys and low groans at the front of the side creates a curious tension that pulls the listener in. It's got the same holding-back feel as "I Just Want You to Stay", which gives the slow build of the track some propulsion. But the first side here takes almost seven minutes to build to crescendo. By the second minute, "Wouldn't Wanna Be Swept Away" gets crowded up with a storm of guitars and effects that don't surround you as a listener so much as they overwhelm you. Sure, it could be a representation of the titular fear, presenting a wave of sound you could drown in. But too much of the track leaves you less thrilled by the sensory onslaught and more exhausted.

The wave of noise clears out around the ten-minute mark, and for a second, watery sounds and blipping notes offer a moment of calm, a sudden stillness in the wake of all that churning noise. It brings us back to the quiet pulse at the heart of the record. It's in the sparer moments that you can feel the back and forth between Fennesz and O'Rourke, and you can feel the subtle melodies and movements of the music. The louder moments here don't stretch out so much as they condense and hide the most fascinating parts of the record. It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry, then, turns out to be a good collaboration, one that shows the best of both players, but only when they give each other the room to make this sound more like a conversation than a shouting match.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.