Claire Rousay – ‘Sentiment’ album review: An exquisite arc exploring love, regret and life itself

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THE SKINNY: In a world where lines are blurred, and tags finally begin to fade into obsolescence, musicians are following suit. Alternative music is moving into an era where artists are channelling a more authentic essence of themselves into their sounds, facilitated by the inherent scope technology allows sonically, emotionally, and otherwise. People are creating their own contexts, kicking back against convention and revitalising the craft by doing so. That’s precisely what Claire Rousay has distilled on Sentiment.

It’s a paradox of an album that is unique to the songwriter’s gamut of experiences but also taps into those of the listener. It’s not often that an opus is so emphatic. Sentiment seems to wholly offer up a wider sense of warming understanding.

Known for instituting the ’emo ambient’ genre by fusing heavy use of the autotune with wistful acoustic guitars and field recordings captured on her Zoom H5 Handy Recorder, on Sentiment Rousay once again refines the formula and makes it that bit more piercing. She’s assembled a profoundly meditative journey into love, loss, regret, sex, and seemingly every aspect of life. She might define the candid opening monologue ‘4pm’ as a “letter to the universe”, but indeed, that sentiment can be attributed to the album as a whole.

An absolute masterclass in sincere songwriting that seamlessly blends her respective influences, there are palettes drawn upon from across music’s timeline as Rousay conjures the most human album I have heard in a very long time. It’s complicated, frank and, at points, darkly comic, with the music spanning from the stylistic potpourri of Soundcloud rap to the glistening transcendence of Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams.

One of the album’s greatest triumphs is the arc that Rousay leads us on. There is simply no way of telling how it will pan out at the outset, and in an astute mirroring of the meandering nature of living, by the end, you’re left feeling changed as the album gradually opens up into an immense astral pain, unlocking a series of core memories.

Conjured across many different abodes, bedrooms and private spaces, the Los Angeles-based musician has confirmed once again why she is a musician for our times. Give Sentiment time, and it will unfold in ways that you could not imagine.

For fans of: Constant self-reflection, staying in bed and staring at the stars on a summer’s night.

A concluding comment from my shrink: “If you’re feeling depressed, maybe don’t listen to this; it will only make things worse.”

Sentiment track by track:

Release Date: April 19th | Producer: Bennett Littlejohn / Claire Rousay | Label: Thrill Jockey Records

‘4pm’: The opener is an immediately arresting voice note from Rousay wherein she discusses her life becoming the one she had dreamed about since being young but cannot enjoy it because of what she dubs the “seemingly infinite void” inside her. This is her “letter to the universe”, begging for the aching to let up and the tears to cease, but ultimately, she is grateful for still being able to cry and be human. It then fades into a stirring piece of musique concrète. [4.5/5]

‘Head’: Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album. While the use of the autotune will not be for everyone, the way its use challenges musical traditions is brilliant in itself. An honest and regret-tinged composition that slowly builds to one hell of a chorus that will have you belting out the opening line, “But the rain is coming in” for those wanting to understand what ’emo ambient’ is, this is it. The soundscape at the end is also exquisite. [4.5/5]

‘It could be anything’: Another heartbreaking number. Once again, Rousay elicits pure emotion suspended on top of the autotune-laden chorus, counterbalancing the acoustic’s heavy character and the strings’ drones. The way it all envelops at the end is a triumph, too. [4/5]

‘Asking for it’: Delving further into the well of despair, the Los Angeles musician continues to make the stomach churn with a balladic convergence of electronic textures, strings, and the dynamic texture offered by autotune. It would have made a fitting album closer, but that’s what Rousay does: challenge expectations. [4/5]

‘iii’: This is the moment proceedings take a different turn, and become headier as the sunlight peers through the viscous darkness, and we emerge from the depths of total despair. Vibrating strings, ambient textures and microtones all form an all-encompassing unit that has you fully fixated, with regret and hope, both vying for supremacy. In terms of modern composition, it doesn’t get much better than this; it’s undeniably beautiful. Don’t be surprised if Rousay moves into soundtrack composition in the near future. [5/5]

‘Lover’s spit plays in the background’: As Rousay conjures a deeply emo tale about pretending to be okay when she’s not, this angle is offset by the shimmering musical backdrop she creates, with the guitar line incredibly incisive and bringing to mind that of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’. A serene moment despite the gravity of the words, this is Sentiment to a tee. [4.5/5]

‘Sycamore skylight’: This is the culmination of the ambient plain that Sentiment becomes, and it is one of the most affecting pieces of music that I have ever heard. Washing over you and drawing you on a journey through the past speaks to both Rousay’s scope and undoubted prowess as an artist. From the field recordings to the moving strings and expressive guitar, exquisite is the word. Perfect for a summer drive, with the sun poking through the flora. [5/5]

‘Please 5 more minutes (feat. Lala Lala)’: The intersection of the autotune and ambient returns here, perhaps in the most affecting way yet. Whether it be the arresting cluster of notes that acts as the refrain to the presence of Lala Lala, who adds a welcome presence with the significant line, “I don’t want to be happy I wanna be hungry” before it eventually tails off, there is much going on here to celebrate. [5/5]

‘W sunset blvd’: A field recording featuring people talking that’s been touched up with effects. Its inclusion is interesting, as it breaks up the ambient setting and offers a peek into Rousay’s day-to-day life. There’s also a serious question posed here: Is the perfect time for a Coke after having a lot of sex? I still think I’d prefer a Pepsi after such a session, but this signifies just how universal and comical the record can be. [4.5/5]

‘Ily2 (feat. Hand Habits)’: For the closing track, which is marked out by a definite sense of optimism, the autotune is more alien than ever, reflecting the universal aspects of the record. Rousay also enlists the lauded indie-folk legend Hand Habits to create a finale that feels both compelling and artfully minimal, leaving us somewhat satisfied but with many questions. Once again, that sums up life itself. [4.5/5]

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