claire rousay Is Vexing and Vulnerable on 'sentiment'

BY Eric HillPublished Apr 16, 2024


What if life was a mixtape? Rather than shared collections of beats and rhymes, claire rousay curates the sounds of objects, shared collisions and conversations, everyday moments gathered in quiet times. For the past four or five years those collected noises have been collaged into an array of experimental releases impressive in both quality and quantity. Now on her debut for Thrill Jockey, rousay is using her sounds to make a pop album, of sorts.

sentiment is a bedroom album, not only carrying the DIY feel of confessional songs pulled right off the diary page, but presented in the album artwork and in performances from a facsimile of rousay's actual bedroom. Amidst the clutter of electric guitars, electronic toys and Arthur Russell posters she lays bare  all the confusion, depression and exhaustion that shapes the album, starting with "4pm," an actual iPhone diary entry reading, "It's 4pm on a Monday and I cannot stop sobbing. I haven't been able to eat or sleep or leave the bed for days. Crying every single day for the past 20 days." Whether raw disclosure or simply contextual table setting, this mood is the base note harnessed and played over for the rest of the album.

rousay has adopted the term "emo ambient," to describe her experimental music, and she leans hard into the emo side of things here. Songs primarily about relationships that falter because of doubts and distance are delivered in run-on lines in the classic see-saw syllables of '90s pop punk; like a Blink-182 song quietly repurposed through auto-tune. rousay bends these basics into interesting shapes, pulling the slowly ascending guitars and vocal on "head" into a drowning pool of violins and room sounds that mirror the lyric, "Drowning now, went too far / Drowning now, I drank too hard."

Her Canadian roots show through in the Broken Social Scene checking "lover's spit plays in the background," an apology sung from the darkness of the world's deepest closet. Like most of the more traditional song elements on the album, the context and arrangements elevate the impact of what, in the wrong hands, could constitute a cringe point at an open mic.

In her press bio, rousay expresses a desire "to communicate my feelings and ideas as clearly as possible lately." While the lyrics certainly succeed in pulling back the curtain, the few instrumental tracks — like the violin and cello threnody of "iii" and especially "sycamore skylight," with its muted piano, electronics and an open window onto a world of traffic and birdsong — give voice to emotional depths the words can only hint at. There is a conversation between the artist and the art that encourages directness, but directness can also make for a bad hang if it corners you at the wrong time.

It's clear from the variety of work that preceded this album that rousay isn't someone that fears crossing boundaries, either personally or artistically. There is unquestionable bravery in the access and vulnerability that sentiment communicates, and the journey into pop music is yet another promising step in rousay's always-morphing development. 

(Thrill Jockey)

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