Clairo is hardly the biggest star of the last decade; ask 95% of people over 25 who she is and watch as they respond blankly, however, when all is said and done, the Gen-Z icon will likely go down as one of the most influential musicians of our time. With her imperfect but endlessly promising 2019 debut ‘Immunity’, she put so-called bedroom pop on the map, and in the process, inspired scores of up-and-coming new artists. We have yet to see the full impact of that album on the music scene, but in the end, inevitably, it will be immense.
On her follow-up ‘Sling’, Clairo switches from influencer to influenced; paying homage to 70s greats like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and taking subtler ques from the likes of Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum and, Elliott Smith. The end result is a 12 track, 44 minute album of timeless indie-folk arrangements paired with subdued vocals and touching lyrics. Much like Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’, it’s the stuff of cottage-core fantasies.
The more cynical among us might accuse Clairo of being uninspired or playing it safe with her second album; in an attempt to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, she stuck with the adored sounds of old rather than taking further sonic risks, the argument would go. Nothing about ‘Sling’, however, feels like a cop out; Clairo finds perfect balance between incorporating her own influences while maintaining her own voice. Even when the Carole King-esque instrumentation takes hold on ‘Amoeba’, the lyrics (“I show up to the party just to leave”) make it unquestionably her own. The closest this album comes to a true pastiche is ‘Zinnias’; as Clairo sings of “standing on the corner of Comstock and Waverly” over hurried folk, guitar instrumentation, the Joni Mitchell influence becomes undeniable.
If ‘Immunity’ was the sound of an artist in the throws of teenage angst, ‘Sling’ is the sound of a woman looking to adulthood and domesticity; a revelation apparently inspired by a year in lockdown with her new dog Joanie (named after the legendary Joni Mitchell). It’s never clear however, whether, this embrace of domesticity is done at will or comes from a sense of societal obligation; “There’s a claw on my shoulder / And she’s saying the obvious / ‘You know eventually you’re gonna have to be a provider, too'” she sings on standout ‘Reaper’. At once she seems to want to run immediately into motherhood (“I’ll tell you about the Rabbit Moon and when to keep walking”) and also escape it and all it’s many responsibilities (“I can’t fuck it up if it’s not there at all”).
‘Sling’ alternates between this sense of assuredness and self-knowing and, uncertainty. On ‘Amoeba’, Clairo is, at one moment, singing of reaching an epiphany and, at the next, is filled with quiet, seething anger towards a toxic ex: “You’re not as good as what your mama’s sewn” goes one blistering line. ‘Just For Today’ meanwhile documents that crushing moment where after months of successfully combating depression and anxiety you fall down once again: “I didn’t think I’d end up here this time” she sings, recapping an experience on the Suicide Prevention hotline. Closer ‘Management’ finds Clairo finally finding a true sense of closure, acknowledging the inevitability, but fleeting-ness of these low-points (“only for a short while / I’m bound to lose my head”), finding hope in the future (“Fast forward to when I’ll have friends / And men who don’t interject”) and embracing the uncertainty of it all; asking unanswerable question without expectation of an answer. Like the rest of ‘Sling’, it’s the sound of progress; both personal and artistic; the sound of someone moving forward while knowing they have yet to reach their final and best form.
Best Tracks: ‘Amoeba’, ‘Blouse’, ‘Wade’, ‘Harbor’, ‘Just For Today’, ‘Reaper’
Worst Tracks: ‘Zinnias’