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Claire Rousay’s ‘Sentiment’ is a Beautiful Study in Wide-Open Loneliness

Claire Rousay has spent the past few years building her own adventurous style of electronic collage, calling it “emo ambient.” Sentiment is her self-described pop album, building her late-night diary entries out of synth textures, warped melodies, robot AutoTune vocals, rock guitar weaving in and out of the mix. But it’s a fantastic tour de force. She’s got a brilliant flair for twisted love songs, as in “Head,” where she sings, “Spending half my whole life giving you head/Just in case you need to forgive me one day for something I did.” The whole album flows like Brian Eno’s Another Green World through the ears of a big Pedro the Lion fan.

Rousay already has a wide-ranging catalog. The L.A. trans composer’s albums run from the austere musique concrete of Several Erasures or I’ll Give You All My Love to warmer ambient works like Never Stop Texting Me, A Softer Focus, and Everything Perfect Is Already Here. But Sentiment is a place to jump right into her sonic world, with a proper pop pace: 10 songs in 37 minutes. The indie-rock tunes mix with orchestral interludes, synth drones, field recordings, found sounds from nature or the city streets, all full of raw emotion.

“4pm” opens the album with a spoken-word “letter to the universe,” narrated by fellow ambient composer Theodore Cale Schafer. “It’s 4pm on a Monday and I cannot stop sobbing,” Rousay admits through Schafer’s voice. “I have never felt this alone and discarded in my life.” “It Could Be Anything” is an confession of post-breakup jealousy, with guitar and strings, as she muses, in her digitally altered voice, “Do you ever think about what I’m doing when he’s doing you? Because I do.” The guitar builds in the mode of classic Midwest emo, as she tries to get a grip on her hyperactive imagination, “trying not to visualize your skin by candlelight while he gets what he needs.”

Her big theme on Sentiment is loneliness, and she evokes it in the wide open spaces in the music, from her AutoTuned vocal alienation to her nervously clumsy guitar. You can hear Sunny Day Real Estate or Seam in her playing, in ballads like “Please 5 More Minutes,” “Head,” and “Asking For It.” In “W Sunset Blvd” she’s just standing on a street corner recording overheard chatter from strangers, looking for any kind of human connection.

Rousay climaxes Sentiment with a powerful 15-minute sequence: two gorgeous synth compositions, “III” and “Sycamore Skylight,” with a bona fide pop gem tucked in between, “Lover’s Spit Plays in the Background.” She plucks her guitar, in bedroom-indie mode, breaking down her feelings as she listens to a Broken Social Scene song. “‘Lover’s Spit’ plays in the background / Making me wish I had someone around,” she confides. The music haunts her with memories of a wrecked relationship, as she sings, “I hate me too / You hate me too/But you love me still.” But then it flows into a peaceful pastoral interlude — wind blowing, birds chirping, dogs barking — as if a lonely heart suddenly remembered to look out the window and see life going on.


She signs off with “ILY2,” featuring indie-folk artist Hand Habits, on a melancholic yet hopeful note. For all the pain in the music, Sentiment never sinks into despair — it’s an album about traveling through different kinds of temporary hell, on the way to broader human feelings. 

“Sometimes I am just grateful that I can still cry,” the narrator recites in “4pm.” “Because being numb is an even worse reality, and very few people seem to return from that.” It swerves instantly into an electronic dentist drill making noise while an EKG machine bleeps away. It’s a clever production flourish, but it also sums up everything Claire Rousay is going for on Sentiment: a musical antidote to numbness.

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