Clairo Takes a Defiant Leap on ‘Sling’

“Sling,” the second album from the introverted however openhearted musician Clairo, was impressed by two comparatively widespread pandemic-era life adjustments: In the previous 12 months, the 22-year-old songwriter and producer born Claire Cottrill relocated to upstate New York, and adopted a canine.

Fans have been acquainted with Joanie, a half chow chow/Great Pyrenees combine, by way of Clairo’s Instagram since she was a pet. The musician’s gradual acceptance of Joanie’s unabashed dependency and unconditional love varieties the emotional arc of the album. (Joanie can be credited with offering “chimes” and “snoring.”)

One upstate lure was the scenic Allaire Studios in Shokan, N.Y., which Cottrill informed Rolling Stone had a transformative impact on her sound: “Seeing mountains every day when you’re making music,” she mentioned, “I suddenly felt the urge to put a horn on a song.” The transition from the gently kinetic pop of Clairo’s wonderful 2019 debut album “Immunity” to the folk-pastoral “Sling” is a dramatic sonic leap akin to Taylor Swift’s shift between “Lover” and “Folklore.” Naturally, Clairo co-produced “Sling” with one of many architects of Swift’s Cottage of Sound, the ever-present Jack Antonoff.

Clairo first got here to prominence nearly accidentally, in 2017, when the charismatic, self-recorded video for her track “Pretty Girl” went viral. It was a YouTube phenomenon (75 million views) however its vibe now feels proto-TikTok: a casually dressed, barely bored teenage lady passing time in her bed room by performing for her digicam and an imagined viewers. The simple allure of the video could have unwittingly diverted among the consideration from Clairo’s songwriting, nevertheless it led to a report deal when she was 19.

“Sling,” a unusual, uncompromising and anti-commercial album, doubles down on the subtly defiant spirit that was already current on “Pretty Girl,” though this time Clairo’s goal just isn’t a narrow-minded accomplice however a complete business poised to commodify and money in on her artistry.

“I’m stepping inside a universe designed against my own beliefs,” she proclaims on the bucolic however itchy “Bambi.” The album’s arresting first single, “Blouse,” options haunting backing vocals from fellow Antonoff collaborator Lorde; “Why do I tell you how I feel, when you’re too busy looking down my blouse?” the 2 girls croon like a long-lost ’70s people duo. “Mom, would you give me a ring? One for the ride, and one for the magazine,” she sings on “Management,” a winking critique of the form of picture creation she has felt pressured to stage in service of her profession.

Clairo could have initially arrived as an indelible product of the high-speed web period, however the world “Sling” inhabits is miles from the closest Wi-Fi connection. Its sound is proudly retro and humbly indie: Vampy Wurlitzers, woolly acoustic guitars and trilling woodwinds abound. At instances, “Sling” appears like Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” had it been launched on the D.I.Y. label Okay Records.

Clairo co-produced “Sling” with Jack Antonoff, who has just lately labored with Lorde and Taylor Swift.Credit…Adrian Nieto

Unfortunately, this sonic palette could make among the much less memorable songs bleed collectively, their meandering melodies and sludgy tempos failing to tell apart themselves. Tracks like “Partridge,” “Wade” and “Zinnias” get misplaced in dense, dizzying thickets of their very own creation.

Clairo sings in a low murmur that sometimes surges with nice emotion — “Sling” makes the case that her most direct vocal precursor is both Elliott Smith or Phil Elverum — and her varied co-producers have experimented with totally different strategies of recording her voice. If the avant-pop producer Danny L. Harle threatened to drown it out with bells and whistles on her 2018 EP “Diary 001,” Antonoff typically offers it an excessive amount of area to roam. Rostam Batmanglij, the atmospheric-pop-minded producer who collaborated with Clairo on “Immunity,” had helped her discover a center floor, buoying and giving construction to her delicate sensibility with out overwhelming it.

Clairo does pull off that stability, although, on the brand new album’s second observe, “Amoeba,” a spotlight anchored by funky, insistent keyboards and a regular beat — a track that manages to brood and saunter on the similar time. Even extra affecting is the acoustic ballad “Just for Today,” which, just like the beautiful “Immunity” track “Alewife,” finds Clairo to be a fearlessly vivid correspondent from the darkest corners of her melancholy. “Mommy, I’m afraid I’ve been talking to the hotline again,” she sings, her voice sounding childlike in its desperation however all of a sudden relieved by the discharge of this confession.

“Just for Today” is additional proof of a nice shock: There was at all times extra depth to Clairo’s unhappiness and songcraft than could possibly be conveyed by the three-minute synth-pop ditty that made her well-known. It additionally demonstrates that her music is at its most lucid and efficient when an prolonged hand — or paw — is drawing her again as much as the floor. The definitive model of “Just for Today” is perhaps the demo she posted to Instagram in January 2021, the night time after she wrote it. “At 30, your honey’s gonna ask you what the hell is wrong with me,” she croons, after which all of a sudden dissolves into giggles. A yelping Joanie has jumped up and thudded towards her guitar, attempting to snuggle into her lap.

(Fader Label/Republic Records)