Introverted but open-minded musician Clairo, Sling, was inspired by two relatively common life changes during the pandemic era: Last year, 22-year-old songwriter and producer Claire Cottrill moved to New York State. and adopted a dog.
Fans have known Joanie, a mix of Chow Chow and the Great Pyrenees, on Clairo’s Instagram since she was a puppy. The gradual acceptance of Joanie’s unabashed dependence and unconditional love by the musician forms the emotional arc of the album. (Joanie is also credited with providing “chimes” and “snoring”.)
A draw in the backcountry were the quaint Allaire Studios in Shokan, NY, which Cottrill told Rolling Stone had a transformative effect on their sound: “Seeing mountains every day when you make music,” she said suddenly felt the urge to horn on a song. ”The transition from the gently kinetic pop of Clairo’s excellent 2019 debut album“ Immunity ”to the folkloric-pastoral“ Sling ”is a dramatic jump in sound, similar to Taylor Swift’s switch between“ Lover ”and“ Folklore ” “. Of course, Clairo co-produced “Sling” with one of the architects of Swift’s Cottage of Sound, the ubiquitous Jack Antonoff.
Clairo first became known almost by accident when the charismatic, self-recorded video for her song “Pretty Girl” went viral in 2017. It was a YouTube phenomenon (75 million views), but its vibe now feels proto-TikTok: a casually dressed, slightly bored teenage girl who kills time in her bedroom by looking for her camera and an imaginary Audience performed. The video’s simple charm may have unwittingly diverted some of the attention from Clairo’s songwriting, but it resulted in a recording deal when she was 19.
“Sling”, a strange, uncompromising and anti-commercial album, doubles the subtly defiant spirit that was already present on “Pretty Girl”, although Clairo’s goal this time is not a narrow-minded partner, but an entire industry ready to join Commodify and cash in on your art.
“I’m entering a universe that was designed against my own beliefs,” she proclaims on the idyllic but itchy “Bambi”. The captivating first single on the album, “Blouse,” features haunting background vocals from Lorde, a colleague of Antonoff; “Why do I tell you how I feel when you are too busy looking into my blouse?” The two women sing like a long-lost folk duo of the 70s. “Mom, would you call me? One for the ride and one for the magazine, ”she sings in“ Management ”, a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the kind of image creation that she felt put under pressure in the service of her career.
Clairo may originally have arrived as the indelible product of the high-speed Internet era, but the world that Sling inhabits is miles away from the nearest Wi-Fi connection. His sound is proudly retro and humble indie: Vampy Wurlitzers, woolly acoustic guitars and trilling woodwinds abound. Sometimes “Sling” sounds like Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” when it was released on DIY label K Records.
Unfortunately, this palette of sounds can cause some of the less memorable songs to bleed to death together, with no difference in their meandering melodies and muddy tempos. Tracks like “Partridge”, “Wade” and “Zinnias” get lost in the dense, dizzying thicket of their own creation.
Clairo sings in a low murmur that is occasionally steeped in emotion – “Sling” argues that her most direct vocal precursor is either Elliott Smith or Phil Elverum – and her various co-producers have experimented with different methods of recording her voice. When avant-pop producer Danny L. Harle threatened to drown it out with bells and whistles on her 2018 EP “Diary 001”, Antonoff sometimes leaves too much room to roam. Rostam Batmanglij, the atmospheric-pop-oriented producer who worked with Clairo on “Immunity”, had helped her find a middle ground, to give her delicate sensibilities lift and structure without overwhelming her.
Clairo manages this balance on the second track of the new album, “Amoeba”, a highlight that is anchored by funky, haunting keyboards and an even beat – a song that manages to brood and stroll at the same time. Even more moving is the acoustic ballad “Just for Today”, which Clairo, like the breathtaking “Immunity” song “Alewife”, finds as a fearlessly lively correspondent from the darkest corners of her depression. “Mom, unfortunately I spoke to the hotline again”, she sings, her voice sounds childlike in her desperation, but suddenly relieved by the confession.
“Just for Today” is further evidence of a pleasant surprise: Clairo’s sadness and Songcraft always had more depth than the three-minute synth-pop song that made her famous. It also shows that their music is clearest and most effective when an outstretched hand – or paw – pulls it back to the surface. The final version of Just for Today could be the demo she posted on Instagram in January 2021, the night after she wrote it. “At 30, your sweetheart will ask you what the hell is wrong with me,” she hums and then suddenly dissolves into giggles. A howling Joanie jumped up and pounded on her guitar to snuggle into her lap.
(Fader Label / Republic Records)