Saturday, August 3, 2019

Review: Immunity • Clairo

One visit to the Wikipedia page for American singer-songwriter Clairo will reveal a weird web of name-drops and industry connections meant to debunk her legitimacy. Under the boldfaced heading "Nepotism and industry plant controversy," it is written that her marketing executive father knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, and somewhere in that chain, she landed herself a record deal with Fader magazine's independent label. But when her debut album landed this summer, the narrative changed quickly: Her critics have stopped questioning the means of her success. Rather, they just seem pleased that she and her full-length statement are here.

While her breakthrough single "Pretty Girl," a low-fi vaporwave track with a webcam music video, was positioned as a meme of sorts, Immunity is anything but light entertainment. A coming of age record of sorts projected through an open-minded 21st century lens, the record embeds mental health, sexuality, and love into its hazy production. Pushing her voice closer to the front of each mix and implementing organic instruments, Clairo and producer Rostam Batmanglij have evolved her sound into cockeyed analog pop-rock; Sharp drums, clipped bass blows, and full-bodied pianos texture the tracks without distracting from her pastel vocals and personal stories.

Tokens of unrequited same-sex feelings, "Bags" and "Sofia" boast the most accessible hooks; further declaration of those feelings take form over the alluring production on "Softly," which sticks its landing in the intersection of vintage alt-rock and rhythm and blues. But the seven-minute finale "I Wouldn't Ask You" and the cuts with poetic stanza structures, like gentle suicide confessional "Alewife" and the hazy, peacekeeping "White Flag," usually don't feel wandering or unremarkable; in fact, the closing track, detailing her struggle with an early onset form of arthritis, may be her most striking feat. The hopelessness of its barren first half evokes visions of a trapped young woman, but at its midpoint, a children's choir flips the script and reassures our narrator: "We could be so strong. We'll be alright, we'll be alright," they sing from a distance.

Showcasing incredible maturity on both personal and musical fronts, Immunity becomes a triumphant reintroduction for Clairo. For the first time in her career, she is the focus of her work: No longer are her vocals diluted in reverb and pushed behind a beat, nor are her lyrics blended into a slurry of incomprehensible syllables, nor is her artistry held hostage by niche meme culture or pointed accusations. Although it listens much more like a raw mood record than an assertive statement, the album should fend off any disbelief in Clario's place in the musical landscape – not because it set out with the mission statement to do so, but simply because it does without trying.

Immunity is available now under Fader Label.

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