Reviews: Mitski, Fennesz & Jim O'Rourke

Puberty 2, naked and poseless; It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry, amorphous and emotionally charged
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Mitski, Puberty 2

As confessional as singer/songwriters; as confrontational as punk. People have brought up St. Vincent in comparison because both are women and both wield guitars (sometimes noisily), but Annie Clark has never been this naked and poseless. Compare, the shock-value “masturbate” line from “Birth in Reverse” to the opening monologue of “Happy,” where Mitski incarnates the emotion as a boy, as fleeting as the emotion itself: “Happy came to visit me, he bought cookies on the way […] So he laid me down, and I felt Happy (strategic pause) come inside me.” And consider the context of the odd drum machine and her monotone delivery, giving more emotional weight to her words and that pause, and the contrast provided when the riotous saxophone comes in. Other highlights include the gorgeous harmonies of “I Bet on Losing Dogs” and the Pixies-inspired “Dan the Dancer” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”; the very prospect of wanting your sadness to fossilize so you won’t be able to cry (“Fireworks”). Then there’s the oft-talked about “Your Best American Girl,” that documents “wanting so badly to fit into this very American person’s life, and simply not being able to”, her casual melody over the soft bed that slowly swells into a fuzz explosion. She’s much too meek to be the voice of any generation, but she’s at least articulating the problems of her generation—my generation, likely your generation—that you should listen. B PLUS

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

In case you didn’t already know, both (Christopher) Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke have made careers of sustaining interest over long periods of time. With Fennesz, it was moving molecules around to make immersive waves; album titles like Endless Summer and Black Sea were indicative of the music contained within.

With Jim O’Rourke, it was through his own take on minimalism (he’s cited Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach as his favorite rock record) as on Bad Timing. Or, in the case of his pop records afterwards and in the case of his work with other people’s pop records (ie. Sonic Youth and Wilco), it was adding rich colours into those pop records. Actually, I liken O’Rourke to Brian Eno, except less concerned with synthetic soul, if you will. Both have made delightful and unpretentious pop records, both have made long-form, non-pop records, both have produced great records for other people. And both musicians are restless, having collaborated with tons of other artists; Fennesz too. Actually, this isn’t the first time Jim O’Rourke and Fennesz have collaborated together; they’ve released three albums as Fenn O’Berg, with Peter Rehberg, which appropriately sound completely different than It’s Hard For Me to Say I’m Sorry.

This one’s comprised of only two songs: one 18-minutes long and the other 20, and two-song, long-form ambient albums aren’t likely to garner much critical attention, especially in comparison to Jim O’Rourke’s song-oriented Simple Songs of yesteryear. But this is a good record, where two inherently different musicians who speak the same language get together in the same room and produce something that’s as amorphous as the cover and as emotionally charged as the album and track titles suggest.

There’s an interesting effect from the colour palette that Christopher Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke choose on “I Just Want You To Stay” and what results: around the 5-minute mark, you can hear the faintest of what sounds like bongos contrasting with sonar pings over ambient washes, and it evokes cloudy grey skies moving in fast-forward. Around 7 minutes in, a synth throws itself at the feedback, trying to make sense of the distortion – the melodies it creates fade immediately, but it keeps trying despite the build-up. Around 12-minutes, another odd, soft, clicking percussion in the right channel dissipates the fog; everything settles before rising up again into a final climax. The synth blares like an alarm, and you realize he or she has already left. Nothing repeats because everything changes, and I’m not necessarily talking solely about the music.

By contrast, “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Swept Away” is more cinematic (it is, in essence, two drawn-out crescendos, separated by a calmer, ambient piece) and thus, less emotionally charged, but no less successful. The crescendos feel like – as the title suggests – waves comprised of slabs of Fennesz’ electric guitar chords and feedback. But the key part of “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Swept Away” is that ambient interlude; the guitar slowly bleeds away into what sounds like distorted vocals and pinging synths take its place in the album’s most colorful section.

Put it this way: my editor would’ve been fine if I wrote a short capsule review of this album. But I don’t think I could have done it justice in just a couple hundred words. B PLUS