On her debut album Immunity, Clairo finds maturity - and blossoms in it
The captivating debut album from the Boston-raised musician is full of growth.
On her debut EP, diary 001, Clairo's future seemed uncertain. Her viral break-out single Pretty Girl was a lo-fi slow-burner that felt like an easy entrance to bedroom pop; a soft, often-hazy approach to pop music that many people use to define pop musicians - female, often - that don't fit somewhere between that popstar 'norm' and this alt-girl persona that seems to trap musicians like Lana Del Rey, for example. The greater EP on the other hand, enlisted musicians like Rejjie Snow and PC pop producer Danny L Harle for gentle ballads that sit between this bedroom-pop sound and other pop sub-genres (funk-pop and bubblegum pop respectively), leaving her open to a hazy future that seemed almost as undefinable as her music. At times, both in her music and online, it almost felt like she was over it, and looking for an escape; "I’m hoping [Diary 001] can close off the bedroom-pop era of Clairo, and I can move on to some other things," she wrote just days following its release, sensing at something bigger - a new change - on the horizon.
Step forward 18 months and on her debut album Immunity, you get a greater sense to who Clairo actually is - not just what music she makes. Throughout the album's eleven tracks, she introduces us to a musician and songwriter driven by emotions rather than sounds, in the sense that each of the tracks feels vastly different - something we'll get into more information later on - yet interconnected by distinct emotions and complex feelings that track the highs and lows of Clairo's past two years. There are songs on the natural ebbs and flows of being a growing teenager, with Clairo - now 20-years-old - softly singing above swirling melodies and subtle percussion paces, but also moments which set her apart, like Sofia - an ode to the Sofia's of pop culture and their beauty - or Bags, a devastatingly beautiful album highlight with a stinging chorus: "I guess this could be worse / Walking out the door with your bags," she sings. "I think this song is definitely about one of my first experiences with a girl, but I think as a whole it’s just about being comfortable or becoming comfortable in-between spaces," she says on the single (Clairo came out as bisexual in 2018). "Whether that’s relationships or if you relate it to something bigger in your life. It’s definitely about me learning to be comfortable in a place of the unknown and kind of just letting something be, and being okay with not knowing the outcome of something."
Much like Bags, much of Immunity stings with searing lyrics and subtle metaphors that you won't quite pick up on without diving into deeper features on her life - for example, while much of Diary 001 is built around hazy auto-tune, the only times she uses autotune on Immunity is to signal at something larger: "All the autotune on the record is me talking through this glass wall, where you can't fully communicate, or they just won't listen," she tells PAPER Mag. The album-opening Alewife, for one of the album's more touching examples, is an ode to an old friend who talked her out of suicide in early-high school ("I needed to tell this story, about how this person got me out of such a horrible time, and how there are lots of people like her out there," she says), while the album's closing gasp I Wouldn't Ask You positions soft choirs and beat switches underneath lyrics on being cared for when hospitalised by arthritis ("I wouldn't ask you to take care of me," she sings in the repeating chorus).
Even musically speaking, Immunity signals major change for Clairo. While her debut EP fluttered around different interpretations of this subtle, slow-paced sound, the instrumentals that litter Immunity's duration feel more concise and focused; perhaps a by-product of working with Vampire Weekend ex-member/songwriting heavyweight Rostam Batmanglij, but perhaps more-so a by-product of Clairo finding her place in a world full of similar acts. Immunity feels more restrained; the subtle electronic edge not through Danny L Harle's bubblegum-pop synth, but instead the slight Dancing On My Own-esque hammer in Sofia, or the harmonising choirs that layer underneath several of the album's tracks. The subtle instrumentals are at the perfect parallel to Immunity's enchanting vocals and lyrics - soft and thickly-undertoned, but fierce enough that if you dig deeper, you can find something special.
"I wanted to write about things that I had never talked about, never told a lot of my friends," she says on Immunity, and it's a sentence that encapsulates her evolution as a songwriter in the time between Diary 001 and her debut album the year later. While Diary 001 felt like an introduction to Clairo, Immunity is a welcoming embrace into her life and everything it encompasses, positioning herself as a voice that often lacks from other musicians caught in that 'teen rising star' category. "A lot of artists don’t necessarily feel like they need to be a role model, they don’t feel the need to listen to who is listening to them," she continues. "Sometimes I wish I did that because it’s hard to let so many voices in. But I also feel really good about taking on that responsibility and offering support for people, treating them like a younger sibling. If I could be anything to these kids, it’s an older sibling."
Clairo's debut album Immunity is out now via Fader Label / Caroline Australia.
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