Live Report: claire rousay – The ICA, London

"It's a look behind the curtain..."

Prolific doesn’t quite cover it with claire rousay. Over countless bandcamp releases she’s made ambient music that contains shifting passages where oblique suites segway into sections that are graceful and classical. There’s often a wonderful contradiction where very ordinary conversations are backed by distant and ornate strings. April’s ‘sentiment’ however, her first record for Thrill Jockey, follows a different formula; as was said in a recent review, it’s a pop record that attempts to “communicate [her] feelings and ideas as clearly as possible”.

The shift in sound also beckons in a different approach to live performance. A laptop is present but there’s now more of a classic singer songwriter feel. rousay stands centre stage with an electric guitar, which, in truth, is often more of a prop than a vessel for sound. After ‘sentiment’s opening spoken word piece ‘4 A.M’ the setlist continues to focus heavily on the album, with a specific emphasis on the tracks that are more conventional in structure. ‘head’ and ‘lover’s spit plays in the background’ both sound excellent; it’s hard to imagine her tactile music in a live setting, but the faithful replaying of the studio versions highlights the record’s strength. rousay’s vocals – which remain heavily autotuned, even when talking between songs for fear of the tech not working –  are pushed slightly higher up the mix live, and the sound is like fragility on steroids, somehow both robust and vulnerable. These slowcore tracks are built on the skeletal base of percussion and stray plucked guitar lines, and when these are emphasised live, the songs are anchored with an impressive steeliness. 

When not recreating ‘sentiment’, rousay indulges her more outre urges; looping conversations about cigarettes or footwear choices. Most exciting of all is when she hops into the crowd to get a voice recording from one audience member, that is then played to the crowd. It’s a look behind the curtain as electronics and sampling are triggered in real time, and it shows that rousay’s work is as intuitive as it is deeply personal. 

As she recreates her ‘ambient emo’ live, her new tracks are held together with the sound collages of her older experimental work. Seeing these strands of her practice coalesce in real time is a real treat. 

‘sentiment’ is out now on Thrill Jockey.

Words: Theo Gorst 
Photo Credit: Mike Boyd

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