On her 2019 debut album ‘Immunity’, Clairo closed things out with ‘I Wouldn’t Ask You’, a song about feeling helpless while a partner cared for her when she was struggling with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Two years later, on her second album ‘Sling’, the 22-year-old is now putting herself in the position of caregiver.
The record was inspired by Claire Cottrill’s time back at her family home in Atlanta during the pandemic, when conversations with her mum made her consider more deeply her own position on future motherhood. In December she adopted her puppy Joanie, and these ideas about domesticity came sharply into focus.
The resulting album is both deeply considered and finds her in the process of figuring things out. “I keep forgetting that I’ll have a family,” Cottrill songs on ‘Reaper’, her guitar gently ticking along like a clock counting down until that day comes. “I’m born to be somebody then somebody comes from me,” she reasons later, admitting herself to the circle of life. Yet doesn’t mean she doesn’t sometimes want to pack up her concerns and run from it: “I can’t fuck it up if it’s not there at all.”
Part of ‘Sling’’s journey is Cottrill realising she needs to take care of herself better in order to be able to care for anyone else. No more tours where she neglects basic but vital things like eating or calling her family, as she describes on ‘Amoeba’, a piece of jaunty vintage pop whose underlying shadow creeps closer to the fore as it unfolds. “Complain to the management about my lack of self-respect,” she sighs on the string-laden ‘Management’, which shifts through different phases, blossoming beautifully as its creator comes to the conclusion: “I’m doing it for my future self / The one who needs more attention.”
Since she started sharing her music online six years ago, Clairo has been praised for her candid and unguarded songwriting that makes you feel like you’re not alone in life’s troubles and struggles. That’s a feeling that continues on ‘Sling’, which furthers her approach of throwing its arm around you and sharing the weight of your worries. That’s never been stronger than on two songs in particular: ‘Just For Today’ and ‘Little Changes’.
The former, one of the most minimal on ‘Sling’, was never intended to be on the record – Cottrill initially shared a home recording of it on her Instagram the day after she wrote it. On this new studio version, she sings of finding herself back in a depressive phase during quarantine, but recognising a shift in her reaction to it, as she reaches out for help instead of sinking deeper. “Two pats on the back, it just takes time,” she sings, quiet frustration tumbling out afterwards: “It’s getting late / Since when did taking time take all my life?”
‘Little Changes’, meanwhile, finds her acknowledging the destructive darkness that can fill her head (“I see the end before it begins / No use to work; no use in anything”), but making progress too. “But white noise comes from nothing at all / And finally I feel good,” she declares, the softly swooping piano and rich guitar tones washing away the shade.
On ‘Blouse’, she enlists some A-list talent to help her stand tall against sexualisation. Lorde provides backing vocals on the track, which recounts Cottrill catching a male colleague looking down her shirt. Her response is a powerful note on the negotiations women have to make in life: “If touch can make them hear, then touch me now,” she offers, resigned to this world but with enough strength to try and use it to her advantage. There are humorous moments here too, as when the musician sings tongue firmly in cheek: “It’s funny now, I’m just useless and a whore / But I get a co-sign from your favourite one-man show.”
Over the last 16 months, the records that feel like they’ve connected best have fallen into two camps – the big, energetic escapes like Dua Lipa‘s ‘Future Nostalgia’ or the quieter, more intimate, organic gems like Phoebe Bridgers‘ ‘Punisher’. ‘Sling’ falls into the latter camp, the very modern production and synth-centric ‘Immunity’ replaced by flutes, strings and lap steel guitar. This album pulls from the warm, rich tones of ‘70s singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, drawing out the elegant melodies that have always been present in Clairo’s work and shining a light on their beauty.
‘Bambi’ tiptoes through a lush arrangement of piano, noodling guitar and brass, layers of soothing harmonies sparingly used to lift things to angelic heights. ‘Joanie’ is the album’s only instrumental and is meant to reflect a day in the life of her Chow Chow/Pyrenees puppy, her energy waxing and waning as the hours pass, represented by lethargic phrases of bounding piano chords and the excitement of a band playing at full tilt.
Both musically and lyrically, this is Clairo doing what she does best – crafting gorgeous jewels that help you make sense of your own world, one step at a time. ‘Sling’ might take inspiration from classic songwriters of yesteryear but, decades from now, it will be Cottrill whom our future artists hold up with similar reverence.
Release date: July 16
Record label: Fader, Republic and Interscope