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Claire Rousay Traverses Liminal Space on “a softer focus”

In her own words, San Antonio artist, claire rousay (stylized in all lowercase) “is a person who performs and records.” She is a skilled percussionist and composer who makes use of her excellent ear for recorded sound to conjure sonic landscapes from the material of everyday life -- sounds from a kitchen, garage, desk, bathroom, or just outside the living room window. Her music prioritizes emotional immediacy, and on “a softer focus,” she has chosen to ruminate on the strange ways that isolation has intensified our fractured relationship to space in the digital era. Much of her discography can be placed within a broader tradition of experimental collage-based music, but “a softer focus” is a more composed release which explores diverse instrumental stylings in service of something more grounded; a classical album which seeks to stimulate the humanity often buried within digital experience.  

 

The first time I heard claire rousay’s music was at Me Mer Mo Monday, a weekly event once held at Volstead Lounge which served as an informal hub for Austin’s underground experimental music scene. The awkward tension between Me Mer Mo and the rest of East Sixth Street would make itself apparent whenever a bachelorette party or frat crew would stumble upon a free jazz or noise set by accident, yet on occasion these two worlds would converge amicably. In the middle of a particularly spacey duet with more eaze, claire set her White Claw down and began scrolling through her phone, but instead of a field recording or a sample, Charli XCX came blaring out of the Aux cord. claire proceeded to play the entirety of Charli’s debaucherous electropop anthem “5 In The Morning” before eventually transitioning back into an abstract jam. 

 

On one level, this was simply a fun moment -- I love Charli XCX and I was also drinking White Claws -- and everyone in the room was smiling. But I was also blown away by the boldness of this decision to insert an untouched pop song into claire and more eaze’s exercise in sonic manipulation. There is a moment on the track “peak chroma” which took me back to this avant-pop crossover: after two and a half seamless tracks of typewriter field recordings, wistful piano and swelling strings, claire’s heavily autotuned voice enters the mix and she begins to sing a melodic verse by crooning “I'm trying not to miss you / I put on the newest blackbear song”. 

 

A staged eavesdropping ensues, and we hear two or three auto-tuned voices whirl around one another as they casually express different attitudes towards posting on social media. One of them has a habit of deleting her posts as soon as they go up online, as she feels uncomfortable extending her sense of self into online space. More bluntly, the final track “a kind of promise” pokes at similar anxieties of technological representation -- a beautiful melancholy piano and string miniature is brought to a violent halt by a warbling cassette tape.

 

On “a softer focus,” recorded space is not limited to the conventional set of environmental sounds (oceans, insects, birds, traffic, etc.) which conventionally signify space or nature, though it does make extensive use of them. As social media usage has further settled into the environments where we live and listen, music which honestly depicts (or perhaps creates) the experience of being present must also include or reference the prepackaged and processed sounds that have found themselves more and more omnipresent in our lives. To me, the title of “a softer focus” deliberately evokes the unconscious experience which underpins the act of scrolling: staring into your screen in motion as sound peaks out at arrhythmic intervals, hinting at other places which arise from our shared topology.

 

By musicalizing the feeling of scrolling, claire rousay has beautifully illuminated the inner processes which guide that banal habit, and while what we do with this perspective is a bigger question, we are better off having heard it for ourselves. It’s important to note that none of these ideas would hit home were it not for the timeless beauty of the compositions that carry them. 

 

- Blake Robbins

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Black Pistol Fire Drop Video For "Look Alive"

Kevin McKeown and Eric Owen may have grown up in North Toronto, but the work they’ve done as duo Black Pistol Fire does honor to their adopted home. Their latest video, “Look Alive,” is pure Austin -- a little bit hick, a little bit hipster, plenty of punk. Their signature straight-ahead rhythm and fat, fuzzed-out guitar sound are still on display, but “Look Alive” shows a few flourishes to stand out from the pack of Jack White acolytes.

“Look Alive” is strongest when it starts, benefiting from a welcome dose of psychedelia courtesy of delayed guitar and some suitably opaque spoken word, but then things chug into straightforward rock that’s a shade predictable after the fun intro. Still, “Look Alive” sticks close to an appealing 70s-freakout sound without ever being too Tangerine Dream to move bodies or too Winters Brothers to blow minds. Black Pistol Fire know their influences and show them due reverence while adding a stylish spin of their own.

The video for “Look Alive” is as dead-on as its soundtrack, mixing a grizzled actor, some garish green screen and the de rigeur muscle car to great effect, even if it might look a tiny bit like the boat scene from “Willy Wonka” from time to time. 

But seriously, folks. Black Pistol Fire is a must for anyone into rock purism with a thick, distorted edge. White Stripes and Black Keys fans should check this out yesterday. If “Look Alive” is any indication, they’re sweetening their professionalism with a welcome dose of weird. And if that keeps up, Black Pistol Fire could rank with the best pure rock bands in town.

- Matt Salter

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Leti Garza Releases "Borderland" EP

Let's get right to it -- the first song on this album features the line "All this crazy border madness/That makes a country create laws/without looking at the faces of the children." Earnest, we're saying. If that's your jam, allow us to recommend Leti Garza's latest, "Borderland."

Musically, "Borderland"’s Spanish-language tracks hit hardest. Salsa rhythms, smooth pianos and lovely multipart vocal harmonies make these tracks sweet to the head and heart. The pure folk numbers aren't as musically accomplished, but they're more than Poli Sci homework, showing occasional poetic flourishes worthy of the Guthries, Joni and the other influences those tracks wear on their sleeves.

Lyrically, "Borderland" is laser-focused on the plight of asylum seekers at the Mexican border. Their struggles are central to the album, with Garza mostly stepping aside as lyricist to let the suffering of the people speak for itself. Some of the songs may be a bit dry and didactic - the opening track in particular is a challenge - but as a whole Garza's latest is part of a vital dialogue about freedom and moral responsibility. Not every song needs to be danceable. "Borderland" has a message, and it's absolutely worth hearing.

A vital final note -- 100 percent of the proceeds, every last cent Leti Garza makes off this album, goes to Global Response Management, a charity dedicated to delivering emergency support to underserved people in crisis locations. That's an extraordinary gesture that we at The Deli are proud to support. Right on, Leti.

 

- Matt Salter

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Veteran Musician Jesse Beaman Drops First Single From New Project


“Dancing With Ghosts” is the teaser single from Jesse Beaman’s forthcoming album, “Mira.” The track starts out simply, with soft, reverbed synths and a steady four on the floor beat, building a dark stage for what’s to come. As instruments gradually come in, it feels like your eyes focusing, adjusting in the darkness. Shapes take form: snares roll subtly under bright, whirring pianos.

The track does not transform, it unfolds. The melody stays largely consistent, but it blooms and softens, heaves and contracts in a very organic way. Kinetic yet subtle, the instruments move with such understated synchronicity that — should you not be listening hard enough — you stand to miss the best parts. It is a sleek and seamless piece, ethereal and icy. It is music that feels “cool” without sacrificing self-awareness.

Self-awareness is essential here, as “Dancing With Ghosts” lends itself easily to introspection. It’s electronic but it’s distinctly human. While it opens with hard, precise drums and synths, the end of the song finds the aforementioned bright pianos fluttering, scattered and disembodied over a beat that crashed to a halt measures earlier.

The song is powerful, not only in its watertight production (handled by Interpol’s Brandon Curtis) and its composition, but in its mysterious emotional weight. Though the piece clocks in at less than four minutes, the phases of the song pass like seasons: at times it feels nostalgic and longing, at times vivacious. If Beaman’s music can take so many forms in under four minutes, the inquisitive listener will find themselves excited for what he’ll do in a full-length release.

 

- Tín Rodriguez


 

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Cohesive and Creative Collaboration on Display in “Sunrise”

The local talent Primo the Alien cultivates a mysterious, dreamlike universe on her latest single “Sunrise,” along with some help from LA-based musician Shadowrunner, who produced the track and was behind its instrumentation. Her noted influences, such as Whitney Houston, Tina Turner and David Bowie, are all on display here, showcasing her powerful vocals establishing a theatrical, Bowie-esque presence. In addition to channeling some of these iconic artists, Primo and Shadowrunner incorporate modern synthwave sounds to create a nostalgic, dreamy and upbeat atmosphere that is fresh and unique.  

Despite being mainly influenced by older artists, Primo is also inspired by contemporary electronic-oriented artists like The Midnight -- leading to a very natural collaboration process between her and Shadowrunner.  If Primo’s thunderous and distinct vocals were to be isolated, one might not expect it to be paired with Shadowrunner’s electro, synthwave production. Yet they both make it work seamlessly.  “I tend to tailor the delivery, tone and stylistic choices to the song. For this, I was looking for something  sweet, innocent, and pure,” she says. “I think that that matched the production that Shadowrunner  brought.”

The lyrical content is rooted in loneliness and isolation. “I was thinking of the yearning that is when you can’t be with someone. Looking at our current situation with covid and just being apart and away from each other a lot of times is kind of what I was drawing on,” she says.

It’s a song about waiting to be with someone and the pain that comes with that, but there is undoubtedly a hopeful message -- that, even though you may have to wait to be with someone, you’re going to wait for that person no matter the barriers and limitations.

- Quinn Donoghue

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