Following up her critically acclaimed debut LP Immunity, Clairo—real name Claire Cottrill—released her second full length album, Sling (out via FADER/Republic Records/Polydor), today.
Since finding near-overnight recognition after uploading “Pretty Girl” to YouTube in 2017, Clairo has gradually ascended to new artistic heights. With Immunity, Clairo moved past lofi beats and bedroom pop to occupy a unique, original indie rock-pop sound, quite unlike anything else at the time. Co-produced by Rostam of Vampire Weekend and Clairo herself, Immunity was a dreamy exploration of love, doubt, independence and intimacy. Despite the album’s title, Immunity finds Clairo being incredibly vulnerable throughout—evidenced by songs like “Alewife” and “I Wouldn’t Ask You,” the latter being a song about the reluctant surrender of allowing someone to care for you.
Rostam’s influence is clearly heard across the album (like the plinking piano keys on “Softly”), but 2019’s Immunity is exceptional because of Clairo’s lyrical prowess. Songs like “North” and “Impossible” are masterful examples of emotional storytelling. The songs feel so raw, gentle and compassionate, with a youthful simplicity that Clairo leverages to resonate with listeners.
With Sling, Clairo takes a markedly different approach to music, adopting a folk sound reminiscent of artists like Joni Mitchell, one of Clairo’s idols. The album sounds pure, in a sense, much more suited for Fall instead of the hot, heavy heat of mid-July. Few traces of pure indie pop rock remain, replaced by swarming instrumentals and softer, layered vocals and timeless guitar. With Sling, Clairo ages, carefully broadening her understanding—or confusion—of multiple different topics, including domesticity, mental health, comfort and nature.
This is clear in the opening line from “Bambi,” the first song from Sling: “I’m stepping inside a universe designed against my own beliefs.” Clairo’s former understanding of the world, its relationships, its workings, has shifted. What she believed to be true before, is no longer the case now. The only reasonable option in Clairo’s mind is to “take it or leave it,” and continue to feel what this new world has to offer her. “Bambi” is slow, setting the tone for much of what’s to come, and invites the listener along to experience a more mature, complex Clairo—a far cry from “Pretty Girl.”
Track two is “Amoeba,” by far my favorite song off of Sling. Playful piano begins, and the intro swells as Clairo sings matter-of-factly and plainly. “Echo chambers inside a neighborhood” finds multiple Clairos singing in unison shortly leading up to the song’s brilliant chorus, which is filled with piano, flutes, bass and climactic drums. The song eventually steers into an instrumental breakdown (an “epiphany”) that urges you to groove and move your shoulders along to the tune. The final outro runs its course, but isn’t rampant or untethered – it’s given the appropriate space to breathe.
Next comes “Partridge,” a soft track tinged with elements of jazz, with the faintest organ piano playing in the background at sporadic moments. What follows is “Zinnias,” a song that begins in an almost boring manner until the guitar picks up halfway through the track. Lyrically, “Zinnias” finds Clairo taking on the role of a caretaker, almost like an older, wiser sister. This song doesn’t do much for me personally, but the guitar breakdown is the song’s saving grace.
Next up is “Blouse,” the first and only official single released (an earlier demo of “Just for Today” was posted on Clairo’s Instagram page back in January). When “Blouse” first released, I think many of us were surprised at Clairo’s newfound sound, and were unsure if the rest of Sling would sound the same (it does). The song finds Clairo channeling her inner Mitchell, complete with background humming, violins, and delicate strumming. “Blouse” is sleepy and elegant, albeit in a sad way. Topically, “Blouse” is about a feeling of being objectified, specifically within the music industry, where others are unable or unwilling to consider Claire as an individual all her own, instead looking down her blouse. As Pitchfork aptly notes in their review of the track:
“The encounter provokes a sentiment too painful to speak out loud: “If touch could make them hear, then touch me now.” It’s a devastating prospect—wanting so badly to be genuinely validated that you contemplate compromising part of yourself.”
Skipping along to “Harbor,” Clairo grapples with a painful realization: that the love she’s experiencing, is a love that’s a reflection of another’s insecurities, fears and doubts about themselves. Clairo’s role again seems to be that of a caretaker, one who harbors herself away from everyone else as she longs for a deeper, more earnest connection. It’s as if she’s a mirror, or a vehicle for the ideal of love, but the love lacks support and ease—like she’s walking on eggshells. But for now, she’ll pretend that the love she feels is true (“swallow the pill, it’s only fair that I hear”), although she knows deep down the love is fabricated for the benefit of another.
Track eight is “Joanie,” another standout song from the album, and the only song that is all instrumental – which doesn’t make it feel any less. “Joanie,” a nod to the dog Clairo adopted in quarantine, starts and stops several times, bouncing from flutes one second to electric guitar the next. Then, “Reaper,” a song that feels like a continuation of “Harbor,” at least sonically.
Concluding Sling is “Management,” a bubbly song that looks at the notion of managing and nurturing through different perspectives: that of her mother in the first verse; Clairo herself in the second verse, in relation to her dog, Joanie; and ultimately, Clairo learning to preserve and protect herself. It’s a beautiful song, with Clairo figuring out how to be kind to her own mind in the midst of confusion, and striving to let go of resentment.
Despite only having two albums under her belt, Clairo has proven herself to be a multifaceted, talented artist—and someone to continue to watch as she progresses as an individual and in music. Solid sophomore albums are notoriously difficult albums to follow up with, but Clairo excels masterfully, intertwining soft, reflective lyrics with gorgeous production from beginning to end. I don’t think that Sling will be for everyone who initially fell in love with Clairo on Immunity or in her early YouTube days, but the output on this album is strong and centered. Clearly, others are noticing—Sling was largely produced by Jack Antonoff (who had a stellar 2020 with Taylor Swift), and Clairo was even featured on Lorde’s “Solar Power,” providing background vocals (Lorde herself considers Clairo a “god-tier” female artist). She’s this month’s cover star on Rolling Stone, and considers other musicians like Claud good friends (together, they form the supergroup Shelley).
This is all to say that Clairo is deserving of all the future praise she’ll inevitably receive, and Sling is undoubtedly going to be one of the strongest albums of the year. Sling is special: you can literally feel Clairo growing into her own skin and naturally sliding into the music she wants to make. On Sling, Clairo sounds at peace, confident, and slower. Clairo holds no reservations, and lets sheer vulnerability and sincerity pour out of her and into every track. Expectations of fame, success or validation are cast to the wayside, and Clairo sings from a perspective of stunning clarity and direction. The result: a fuller, freer Claire Cottrill, navigating life, love and experience with a gentle ease.
Sling is out now.