Clairo Rolls Her Eyes to Cinematic Sounds on ‘Sling’
Massachusetts singer-songwriter Clairo began as a YouTube sensation, singing jokey lyrics over toy box instrumentation. The songs were catchy, and she quickly became a DIY success. By the point of her full length debut, 2018’s “Immunity,” she had largely ditched the DIY aesthetic for glossy pop production, while retaining a designedly-DIY voice. For an artist whose earliest music capitalized on irony, this was a slick shifting of levels. For her latest endeavor, “Sling,” Clairo has both receded into her own world and taken on the world at large, adopting cinematic, space lounge sounds and offering her takes on life in the same candid persona as she had in her YouTube hits. It’s an unsparingly honest series of reflections magnified to new musical proportions.
Opener “Bambi” begins with a spacey intro from a jazz band fit for technicolor cartoons, and Clairo enters declaring, “I’m stepping inside a universe / Designed against my own beliefs.” In context, the song is likely a stab at the music industry, considering Clairo’s vocal criticism of in the past for its sexism. Her opening bluntness, however, remains consistent throughout the album. “Amoeba” features a chorus that concludes, “But I show up to the party just to leave” over a celebratory backdrop that might well play at that party. Clairo puts about as little effort into singing as possible, just enough to register a melody and get her words across, and, as it turns out, just the right amount.
Several songs are reflections on past relationships, always presented with the same disapproving indifference. “Patridge” is a measured, bittersweet jab at a former romantic partner that culminates with Clairo hooing with abandon over the recurrent space lounge backdrop. “Harbour” takes up a similar topic more directly, but with Clairo’s usual deadpan delivery. She sings in a weary extended sigh, and the whole song rings like a jaded shrug at the world, as the band plays music to herald a happy ending. “Little Changes” trudges along to more of Clairo’s mildly expressed discontents and sidewalk revelations, as she recounts her experiences with a past lover. This time, the conclusion is “But white noise comes from nothing at all.” And a celebration of nothingness is entirely expected.
In “Blouse,” Clairo addresses her experiences of sexualization in the workplace with a snappy refrain of “If touch could make them hear me, touch me now.” Normally such a line would be delivered with anthemic, righteous indignation, but she sings it with her usual detachment, which is, in a way, more venomous. On “Zinnias,” she sings with a whimsical meter and carefree spontaneity of phrasing over an acoustic guitar that frames her like an oddball folk singer. The climax of her unpredictable poetic ramblings is an admission to understanding the appeal of domesticity. Panning out from this is Clairo’s most common subject matter — the peculiarity of life in general.
Clairo reflects upon optimism for the future in “Wade,” over a jazzy backdrop that plays a running commentary on her thoughts. Among the conclusions she reaches is “Decades are wastin’ on your name / You’ll grasp the concept of life / When you give up the point of tryin’.” True to her word, she sings it like she’s not trying. In “Just For Today,” she goes on to ponder, “Since when did taking time take all my life?” Come the largely instrumental “Joanie,” aquatic keys lead into a festive full band outburst suited for dancing miniatures, and lapse into a dreamy descent, with Clairo entering in the end to sing a brief “Ooh ooh” — just like she would.
Clairo continues to reflect on life in “Reaper,” and builds to the eureka conclusion of “I can’t fuck it up if it’s not there at all,” delivering it in a an appropriately singsong manner. In the final number “Management,” she sings about dealing with her daily worries in a way that trivializes them while marching to their beat, as florid strings mock her struggles. Halfway through, a dramatic pause gives way to new life, and she triumphantly returns, reasoning, “I’m doing it for my future self / The one who needs more attention.”
And so you have it. A critical take on modern life never sounded so sweet — or bittersweet. “Sting” is a manifesto of disillusionment, set to music for a colorful cartoon. The space lounge aesthetic that makes up much of the music provides a unique backdrop to Clairo’s designedly bleak musings. The backing gets festive and decadent, but only as needed, with sparse acoustic ruminations filling in some space. Clairo reliably offers clever lyrical snippets that can carry songs on their own weight. The album finds her endeavoring to make sense of life, taking in all its oddities with a straight face, and singing her dry commentary over cinematic sounds.
“Sling” releases July 16 on Apple Music.