claire rousay Puts Her Ambient Experimentation in 'a softer focus'

BY Tom PiekarskiPublished Apr 7, 2021

On a softer focus, claire rousay has delivered both her most accessible and compositionally daring album to date. Past releases have often relied on some combination of field recordings culled from daily routine, audio snippets of candid conversations among friends and the suggestive percussion of everyday objects gently colliding. That version of rousay's work may feel unrewarding to those who prefer more concrete melodic or rhythmic signposts in their music. For listeners who find rousay's brand of experimental music opaque, this new collection of songs may be the introduction they need.

a softer focus boasts more traditional compositional markers in the form of cello, violin and vocal performances across five of the album's six tracks. The string sections are beautifully executed in their own right, but they are especially powerful as accompaniments to rousay's more typical found sounds.

For those who have already bought into what rousay does, a softer focus feels like the rush of hearing your favourite soloist carving out their voice among other musical collaborators. The bass tones introduced towards the end of "Diluted Dreams" perfectly amplify the intensity of Macie Stewart's violin playing. There are some notable additions to rousay's toolkit, too. Besides the occasional appearance of MIDI keys throughout a softer focus, rousay's voice makes a couple of impactful appearances.

One of the album's most powerful moments comes during standout track "Stoned Gesture," when the bleeps of some doubtless quotidian machine give way to the lush billows of rousay's Auto-Tuned vocals and Alex Cunningham's violin. From a songwriting perspective, these tricks are not brand new, but they provide an acute sense of comfort and so elegantly buoy a style that is already very intimate. 

That intimacy is also present in the visual presentation of the album, which merits its own praise. rousay worked closely with friend and visual artist Dani Toral throughout the creative process for a softer focus, a fact which adds dimension to an artistic practice that is already so predicated on friendship. The album packaging, video for "Peak Chroma," and accompanying longsleeve and custom-made ceramic whistles all exude the same warmth that the music does. With Toral's help, rousay has presented a musical vision that is newly inviting while retaining all of the elements that have made her music so special.
(American Dreams Records)

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