My experience of this release started with a bit of a misunderstanding. In press materials for The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart, Chris Hooson talks about his wife Johanna in such reverent, melancholic tones that I thought she had perhaps died recently. The status of her health is still unknown to me, but Chris Hooson’s status as a permanently heartbroken man, “not made for this world” as he says, is enshrined in Inexhaustible Heart to the extreme. It’s a mostly engaging, elegiac series of songs and instrumentals inspired by neo-Minimalist works – Hooson names Arvo Pärt and Bill Evans by name, although Pärt is by far the most obvious inspiration here.
Perhaps paradoxically, given the pained nature of his commentary, Dakota Suite collaborates often, and here Hooson works with French pianist Quentin Sirjacq. Sirjacq’s sensitive performances reinforce Hooson’s conviction that the two men metaphorically stand “up to [their] ankles in the same muddy water.” Your reaction to this phrase may not fully inform your reaction to the music – it’s often quite beautiful and not always ostentatiously sad – but Hooson’s sadness does seem to try to go deeper than Will Oldham’s or Mark Kozelek’s (by a long shot). Where Kozelek is reflective or rueful or more abstract, Hooson can more easily be chalked up as “sad.”
The first disc is dominated by the four-part title track, which is heavily influenced by the Pärt classic Spiegel im Spiegel; its recurring main theme quotes that piece quite directly. It contains layers of drone and string dissonance and develops in different directions, but at times it seems meant to be a more emotionally directive version of Pärt’s masterpiece, grounding the Estonian’s abstracted mysticism in the ambivalent glow of a relationship. It’s juxtaposed with melancholy, reflective vocal songs like “You Will Take All That I Love,” which features just a spare acoustic guitar. When string dissonance creeps into the end of “Becoming Less and Less,” it’s like cracking the dam holding back heartbreak. The second disc is again focused around a suite, this time “Yes We Will Suffer,” which lurks darkly like worries about health.
This is a double CD, which at first I thought might be a bit much, but the sparse and well-thought-out arrangements pass the time nicely. The mood is so carefully and artfully calibrated, which makes all this melodrama worth it a lot of the time.