Over the past while, prolific and multifaceted Canadian-American artist claire rousay has managed to find visibility and acclaim while maintaining a firm commitment to creative restlessness and sonic ambiguity. Recent outings have tended to showcase an evocative blurred-Polaroid approach that weaves verité audio and brittle, ASMR-like, found-object manipulation, but her varied discography also encompasses sturdy post-free-jazz drumming (as heard on the Astral Spirits release Aerophobia) and hyperrealist pop abstraction on her collaborations with fellow Texan composer more eaze.
The title of A Softer Focus aptly depicts the new soundworld rousay unveils on this recording, but perhaps not in the way that one might expect. Her music has often tended toward soft-qua-quiet; the titular focus instead embraces the word’s other dimensions, making for quite the departure. The album still twitches with the intimate, rustling auditory scenarios that characterize many of her recent releases, but here, these fictive spaces are illuminated with a warm tonal radiance. She has enlisted a small cast of string players to provide slow-motion phrases that lap like delicate ocean waves over beds of synthetic drone. She even threads in more melodic gestures including murmurs of piano and her own tremulous auto-tuned singing.
Designating A Softer Focus as an ambient record might feel like a superficial reading, but, of course, the definition of ambient holds far more than just a musical genre. While these new sounds might surprise some listeners, rousays compositional logic remains intact. Beneath the surface emphasis on pitch and the more saturated colour palette, theres something truly eccentric about the interaction between each constituent part. Their gentle and peculiar commingling has the open-ended quality of a field recording— diffuse and environmental, rather than asserting narrative directionality.