Who is Clairo?
Matthew Kellenberg | Monday, September 2, 2019
To some, Clairo is the lip-syncing teen in that viral “Pretty Girl” video, a serendipitous beneficiary of the mysterious YouTube algorithm. To others, she is a music industry plant, a young woman whose father’s connections paved the way for her swift rise. But through a string of dazzling hits, Claire Cottrill has proven herself to be something far beyond these understatements: the voice for a new generation of pop singer-songwriters.
That voice cuts through on her debut EP, “diary 001,” a grab-bag of catchy hooks and pithy verses. On the track “4EVER,” Cottrill’s voice bounces along the lively beats of an electronic keyboard. On the subsequent “Pretty Girl,” she juxtaposes her carefree vocals with a sardonic quip: “I could be a pretty girl/Shut up when you want me to.” And across these songs, Cottrill’s low-budget production gives her music a sense of honesty and intimacy. That fuzzy, warm aesthetic would serve as a catalyst for the bedroom pop trend.
In those respects, Clairo’s latest record “Immunity,” her first full-length album, is quite the opposite. The cuts on “Immunity” do not pop out so much as they glide from one to the next. At its best, this stylistic approach solidifies an emotional arc that befits a full-length project. Just as Clairo lets the album lull in the outro to “Softly,” she pulls listeners back in with a powerful guitar intro to “Sofia.” But at its worst, this approach renders some of the album’s tracks forgettable. Her song “North,” which blends electronic music and guitar rock, gets lost between “Closer to You” and “Bags,” which each focus on either the former or the latter quality, respectively. In addition to her pacing, Clairo has also upended her production style. Out are her Casio drum beats and muffled vocals, in are refined harmonies and lush soundscapes.
Track two, “Impossible,” for example, boasts a cascading keyboard riff à la “Contra,” the colorful sophomore album from indie outfit Vampire Weekend. The connection is self-evident: Rostam Batmanglij, once a member of Vampire Weekend, joins “Immunity” as a co-producer. This is one of many ways in which Clairo’s new album — and particularly “Impossible” — leans on outside inspiration. The bittersweet bridge to “Impossible” seems to pull its melodic style from the recent work of Kacey Musgraves, specifically her 2018 song “Happy & Sad.”
With all this sheen and extrospection, “Immunity” lacks the direct emotional appeal of Clairo’s intimate, uninhibited “diary 001.” But for what the new record lacks in lo-fi charm, it pays dividends in dynamic, immersive pop pleasure. Claire Cottrill is no longer an everygirl making pop songs in her bedroom. And that is a good thing. Because if “Immunity” is any indication, Clairo is meant to be a star.
Label: FADER Label
Favorite Tracks: “Bags,” “Impossible,” “Alewife”
If you like: The Marías, Cuco, Kacey Musgraves
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5