ALBUM REVIEW: Clairo, Sling
Going from being a DIY indie darling to a more mature, celebrated musician is no easy task. A lot of times, artists can get swallowed up in the allure of lo-fi and low budget rock music, leading to tunes that are personal but a little lacking. Ever since dropping viral singles keyboard-based singles like “Pretty Girl” and “Flaming Hot Cheetos”, it feels as if Clairo has been dramatically progressing her sound. Follow-up tracks like “North” and “Sofia” dove headfirst into ‘00s rock revivalism, with lots of marching snares and upfront electric guitar work. While I enjoyed a lot of what she had to offer on that album, I had a feeling she’d be destined for even better things. The sound was there, but it was a little too varied genre-wise to define her as one specific type of artist.
Sling feels like the logical next step - a forward move in terms of maturity and instrumental richness but a step back into the domestic, homegrown sound that made her big in the first place. Clairo is just living in a nicer home with a grand piano, cellos, acoustic guitars and strings backing her rather than a Casio. With the help of Jack Antonoff, the god of this folk-pop shit currently, Clairo evokes the warm sounds of the ‘70s in full stereo. Just as St. Vincent did on Daddy’s Home, she starts the album off with lyrics about the world being diametrically opposed to her, “I’m stepping inside a universe/Designed against my own beliefs/They’re toying with me and tapping their feet”. Saxs blow, drums are lightly tapped upon and Jack’s mellotron glides. The album is filled with peaks and valleys of bright and pretty sounds, some more exciting or endearing than others. Some tracks, like “Harbor” or “Reaper” are drumless slow burners reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers.
Others, like the impeccable “Amoeba”, is pure fun. The simple staccato of “Pretty Girl” is given the Antonoff magic touch with dazzling piano sections that Clairo just fucking massacres with her melodies. Her songwriting is about as good as her debut, but the atmosphere and emotions are just so much more tangible. “Zinnias” is another highlight for me that tends to go a bit harder than the rest. It’s a percussive acoustic guitar that takes full advantage of the stereo sound with hammer ons and pull offs traveling from left to right. Lyrically, she wonders what it’ll be like when she’s a mother, after taking care of a dog she feels ready, it seems. Even with the album’s sole single “Blouse” she seems to be getting more meaningful and outwardly sad, setting the suburban scene and calling herself “useless and a whore”. Shoutout Lorde for providing background vocals and also to the violinist on this one, so subtle and effective on both ends.
More than on any Clairo project or previous single, she seems to more comfortable letting herself not be the center of attention. The wood panneled sound that artists like Weyes Blood and Drugdealer cultivated and Tex Crick did so well earlier this year are a big part of this album. She lets Antonoff jam away on tracks like “Wade” and “Joannie”, laying down some whispered vocal work to accent the killer piano chord progressions. This continues onto tracks like the lovely “Little Changes”, which is about a toxic partner trying to make her into a new person little by little. Regardless, she still sings “life is GOOOOOD”. The record closes off with the baroque, string laden “Management”, which smartly rises from dejection to hope both lyrically and melodically. She reflects on fame and success at age 22, similarly to Billie Eilish on “NDA”. Clairo sings her damn heart out, really reaching into her upper vocal register.
Overall, this is a record that will grow on you with continued listens. Jack Antonoff does a really great job with pacing and sequencing on this one, even if the mellotron, pianos, strings and acoustic guitar combo has been done before. Clairo may indeed lose some of her YouTube pop fans on this one, but it’s for the best. This is her best album yet, and in my opinion, the simple and effective songwriting that put her on is still intact but with better production, improved singing and more purpose.