It isn’t every day a creator comes out with the consistency to elevate any artist to new levels, further finding something that has yet to be unlocked. Max Martin comes to mind quickly when the music is centered on pop and Jack Antonoff has become that for this age of alternative artists. As he did with artists like St. Vincent, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde, he continues with Clairo on her sophomore album, Sling. Clairo has been quietly making noise in lo-fi/acoustic bedroom pop music, but she has yet take make a splash. Sling is different compared to her debut, Immunity, which felt like this bland array of melancholic-emotional downbeat pop tracks that never felt immersive. Sling shifts into a range of elegant folk and pop instrumentals that continuously captures the attention even when Clairo still finds the remedy with a consistent tone and mood.
Clairo’s vocals always had this rustic authenticity that made her debut, Immunity, somewhat tolerable, despite the music’s production not working to her strengths, which is similar to English artist Birdy. Birdy came onto the public eye with her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” but her foray into artistic and pompous pop didn’t resonate as much as her follow-up. Like her, Clairo goes in that direction as Sling highlights her vocal strengths, matching with the sad lyricism she usually writes. It didn’t leave much of an impression, though her follow-up kept it flowing. A part of it could be that it resonates with a style many female vocalists attempt at some point in their career, and that is a heartbreak album taking influence from Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which always perks interest.
On Immunity, Clairo’s vocal range innately slips into melancholic broadness, which can leave a track sounding soulless and tiring. But Jack Antonoff shifts our perception, allowing her voice to capture the emotional gravitas that was sometimes lacking on her debut. Though it isn’t to say this new project is exponentially better than it, the improvement shows in terms of effectiveness. Previously you’d be able to grasp her songwriting strength, but the production never kept you engaged 100%. It’s the complete opposite on Sling, which doesn’t have latent production. It is a continuous testament toward Jack’s genius as a producer, as it matches fittingly with Clairo’s vocals and more so the lyrical content of her music.
Sling is an amalgamation of her life since the release of her debut, amongst the influence that persisted in the making of, i.e. at an estate on top of Mount Tahoe in upstate New York. The atmosphere around her has given us a new direction, sonically, that has Jack Antonoff and Clairo working together to create these beautiful rustic sounds. As Clairo takes a step forward a digs into a variety of themes, like the persistent pressure that goes behind societal norms with motherhood and varying aspects of a relationship. The latter of these can become a bit redundant, as the themes overlap you get lost with certain tracks sounding too similar. Fortunately, this is a minimal deterrent midway, which almost causes a standout track, “Blouse,” to be part of the mix.
“Blouse” has two bookends, “Zinnias” and “Wade,” bogged by typical Clairo conventions. “Blouse” is a beautiful orchestration that displays nuance toward an apparent stigma that still lives today in the world of social dating apps. Or simply put, we’ve all been conflicted within a relationship about whether or not this person is with you for your looks, opposed to your core. She persists in displaying this within the confines of her music, usually succeeding with other tracks like “Amoeba,” which is a continuation in tone and theme to the opening track “Bambi,” except marginally better as the production is more refined and apparent.
Sling shows Clairo discovering herself as an artist, branching into a world that makes sense with her low barring vocals and evoking the emotional gravitas that was lacking. Clairo finds new traction, even though it doesn’t keep you completely engaged all the way through. As much as I enjoyed this follow-up, Clairo still has ways to go as an artist, and fortunately, with her youth, there is nowhere to go but up.