Naked emotionalism is the name of the game on Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke’s first album as a duo, It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the oeuvres of these two musicians. Fennesz’s best-known work is Endless Summer, a noise album that shared both its name and its unapologetic pursuit of transcendence with a Beach Boys compilation, while O’Rourke helped spawn the often maximal and melodramatic genre known as post-rock in the clubs of Chicago. But if you haven’t gotten the memo, there’s the album title, cribbed from a blustery 1982 power ballad by the band that shares its name with O’Rourke’s hometown. And the dog on the cover, while a bit goofy, also recalls the sort of domestic detail one might recall from a time long gone. It would fit nicely on the sleeve of the next album by someone like the Hotelier or Dads. (Really, the whole thing seems a bit emo.)

Here’s the problem, though: It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry doesn’t really provide a whole lot of pathos. Or a whole lot of anything, for that matter. Mostly, the album just feels like a beatless, ambient jam session by two very patient dudes with a whole lot of electronics at their disposal. It moves glacially, but it doesn’t cover a whole lot of ground. Its runtime is divided between about two-thirds textural noodling and one-third grand, dramatic moments that cut through the album’s atmosphere rather than building on it. There are 39 minutes of music here, split between two very long tracks, but by the end, it’s easy to feel like you haven’t heard all that much.

The main emotion you’re likely to feel listening to this album isn’t awe or melancholy or longing but frustration. In fact, there are moments on the album when Fennesz, on guitar, seems to get impatient and plays a few power chords or incongruously loud notes to get O’Rourke to hurry up. There’s something infuriating about these two- or three-track Editions Mego supergroup releases; in most cases, there’s the feeling that they’d cover more ground over five or six shorter tracks rather than two long, aimless jams. (Kouen Kyoudai, Masami Akita’s Mego collab with Eiko Ishibashi from earlier this year, suffered from the same issue.) It’d also likely feel short even if they did cover more ground; ambient albums under 40 minutes rarely work.

But when It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry is good, it’s good, and its best bits generally come during the ambient portions that divide the album’s louder moments—which also means they’re easy to miss. The intro to side two’s “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Swept Away” is breathtaking, with O’Rourke’s synth plings cutting sharply through Fennesz’s distortion to suggest foghorns or distant ship’s bells. And Fennesz can always be counted on to provide ticklish texture through electronic blips and burbles, as he does for much of side one’s “I Just Want You to Stay.” But these moments don’t hit you in the gut. More likely, as is often the case with great ambient music, you’ll forget what you’re listening to and then realize how much you’re enjoying it.

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