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  • Nathan Yoder

Recommended Listening: claire rousay - a softer focus


When DC had the opportunity to interview claire rousay last summer, we were simply floored by the sheer number of projects she had in the works. Solo stuff. Live performances. A long list of collaborations. At the time, the San Antonio-based sound artist expressed that she was both interested in and motivated by experimenting with schedules and routines, and looking back, it seems that whatever method she landed on fostered a pretty prolific output. While as a society we tend to glorify productivity (there is no "right" or "wrong" way to create art during this pandemic), it was very clear back then that claire rousay was a musician with a lot on her horizon.


rousay, by Dani Toral


And here we are, nine or so months later, listening to a softer focus - rousay's excellent debut for American Dreams Records. The album feels a bit like a combination of rousay's familiar noisy inclinations blended with fresh melodic elements. There are some signature and recognizable textures here (abrasive clatter, field recordings, manipulated vocals), but also warm drone and strings (!!!) - new directions for the artist. Naming favorites is up to each listener, but this unique styling results in what is by far and away our favorite project from rousay yet, and another AOTY frontrunner.


Side A includes lead single, Discrete (The Market), which acts as a slow rise and eases the listener into rousay's sonic space. Opening with typewriter clacks, cello played by Lia Kohl eventually floats in, followed by piano. Chimes begin to ring and a deep drone envelopes other instrumentation before all sound fades away as softly as it entered. It is a superbly gorgeous construction. Peak Chroma then follows, beginning with light synth before rousay breaks through with pitched-up vocals and what is perhaps sprinkler noise? We told you this blend is rad. Side A ends with an overheard a conversation about the world of social media, and then finally drops off.


Side B starts with what we see as the album's high water mark. Diluted Dreams is as melodic as the aforementioned lead single - a composite made of street noise, water drips, static transmission, violin squeals (played by Alex Cunningham), cello drones, and faint piano. It sounds like a lot, sure, but the song is a patchwork without seams, a beautifully flowing piece of music. There is something about a well-done side B intro (i.e. Julianna Barwick's Safe) that holds the listener's attention, keeping them deeply engaged for the remainder of an album. Diluted Dreams does just that on a softer focus.


Though rousay is the credited musician on a softer focus, visual artist Dani Toral plays a significant role as well, creating motifs that flow through the album's narrative. Besides contributing the cover and project's photography, Toral also made ceramic flutes to be sold with select copies of the release. The album's overall presentation, from the color palette to desert vegetarian imagery, speaks to Toral's Mexican heritage, making a softer focus very much a collaboration, something that rousay embraces given her past projects.


rousay and Toral, by Dani Toral


We could go on and on about ADR, rousay, Toral, and their first release together, but we'll cut ourselves off now. A softer focus is not out til next month, but preorder information can be found on Bandcamp, so mark your calendar and enjoy a sample track in the meantime. Trust us, this is not an album you want to miss.