When I think about how much claire rousay has already done, it seems a little silly to say she’s just getting started. But considering the trajectory and impact of her work over the past year or two, that’s what it feels like. With a softer focus, that statement resonates even deeper. Beyond her unparalleled ability to take quiet, intimate moments and give them the weight and importance of a collapsing star, she makes art and music that exists to connect. In a year where so many of us have been isolated and on the brink, what could be more important?
a softer focus is a collaboration with artist and sculptor, Dani Toral, whose presence hangs over the album through the meandering embrace of the visual elements. Interconnected, bulbous shapes that are cramped and bursting at the seams on the cover are a visible embodiment of the sounds and emotions claire weaves on a softer focus. Though she was known as a drummer first, there are no sharp aural edges here; everything is smooth, stretched, and ready to wrap around you like a velvety cowl. Conversations around the authenticity and illusions of social media that punctuate the melancholy strings of the stunning “Peak Chroma” feel private but viscerally resonate. Nobody blurs those lines like rousay and in these tense moments, you feel connected and you feel real. Isn’t that what most of us want?
It’s such a dichotomy, though, because there’s a sense of embarrassment and shame that comes with admitting these things. I love that rousay isn’t afraid to ‘go there’ – she pushes our comfort zones aside and buries them in the ground. Macie Stewart’s violin is a downy river, punctuated by slamming doors and clanging footsteps, on “diluted dreams” that holds obscured voices aloft, an inner dialogue you can’t quite hear; a reminder that there’s still a long way to go, but we’re going together. The details are vital on a softer focus because they give the recordings life. rousay’s ability to capture these tiny points in time is uncanny like she’s a time traveler that knows the split second the timeline is going to shift. When lilting piano notes rise through the hazy drones and move hand-in-hand with Stewart’s slow-motion violin, time stands still and the weight of everything becomes too much. You realize there may not be a happy ending in store and you have to prepare yourself for that. It’s heartbreaking and unbearably beautiful.
The past few years and different periods of claire rousay’s work over that time were all leading up to a softer focus. She’s released a lot of great stuff, but this is on another level entirely. Vulnerability is an ever-moving target; it means something different for everyone. But that’s part of the brilliance of a softer focus. While rousay presents an intensely personal album, it also becomes intensely personal for anyone willing to wade into the deep end with her. We find our own moments in these beautifully banal walls, and by letting ourselves go, by opening ourselves to the possibility, we experience real connection.