Clairo - Immunity

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Claire Cottrill, or Clairo, is one of the most relevant examples today of just how powerful the Internet can be in catapulting an artists success. Clairo had been uploading music for a considerable amount of time prior to her overnight fame. But one specific video, her hugely successful “Pretty Girl”, went viral, amassing tens of millions of views. Using just her plainspoken voice, a sparse Casio chord arrangement, and a skeletal synthesized drumbeat, Clairo gave new meaning to lo-fi indie. After the Internet dropped the bedroom pop star into the limelight, it also gave way to some painfully ridiculous attempts to delegitimize her place as an artist based on her familial connections to the Fader label. Without given a chance for her music to speak for itself, Clairo was mercilessly tagged as an “industry plant.”

Immunity, although not a perfect project, does more than enough to solidify her credibility. The most apparent evolution here compared to har early recordings is the step-up in production. Teaming up with former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanlij, Clairo trades the charming rough edges of her bedroom recordings for something far more crystalline.

The album’s high points, and there are many, come when Clairo utilizes her newfound clarity to enhance her intimacy and simple approachability. “Bags,” the first single and clear highlight on the album, is the best example of this. With a straight-faced delivery, her vocals are placed back in the mix underneath driving guitar strums and an evocative blend of percussive keys and synths. There is an exponential growth in her abilities as a lyricist, delineating a rotting relationship with stark detail. Instead of muting her DIY origins, they heighten her startling vulnerability.

Songs like “Alewife,” the album opener, show a perfect level ofrestraint, allowing the minimal elements to truly shine. Rudimentary guitar, drums, and subtle keys nest Cottrill’s shimmering voice. While the sonic elements are emotionally moving on their own merit, the lyrics are absolutely heartbreaking. Cottrill relives a moment in her life when a young friend stepped in to prevent her from suicide. Not ever wallowing into sadness for the sake of sadness, Clairo continues to show an exceptional willingness to relay her most visceral feelings of loneliness and confusion within relationships, romantic or otherwise. The subject matter is heavy.

While it’s easy to pigeonhole Clairo as a lo-fi indie pop, she draws from many other influences. “Closer to You” with it’s tastefully autotune chorus, dips its toe deeply into the world of R&B. It’s not the only time where Clairo uses studio trickery with success. The nearly seven-minute closer “I Wouldn’t Ask You” is a real tear-jerker. Clairo uses slight vocal processing and a gorgeously arranged children’s choir to address her hospitalization after a sever arthritis flare-up.

At times, Immunity is weakened by overproduction. Tracks like “Feel Something,” or “White Flag” are given too much gloss, ultimately taking away from Clairo’s presence and charm. As a result, these songs with potential for poignant impact just come across as bland and run-of-the-mill pop tunes. Weaker tracks like “Sofia” are just too underdeveloped in their songwriting. Quirky instrumental arrangements aren’t going to make them more interesting.

When Immunity is good, it’s excellent. Clairo has rapidly matured as a performer, her songs displaying a vibrancy and warmth while maintaining exceptional nuance. Her last ep diary 001, was branded as her confessional record. But Immunity is a showcase of a teen upstart documenting her transition to adulthood with bravery and honesty. There is a lot of substance here to suggest that Clairo’s best music is still to come.

Grade: B

Matt Marciniec