Review Summary: Retreat, redemption, and reinvention.
Claire Cottrill's life to date has in many ways been a depiction of the Gen Z plight: she's open about her sexuality, frustrated with the objectification of women (in music and universally), and exceptionally forthright about her emotions. 2019's Immunity
successfully transformed Claire, who performs as Clairo, from an overnight YouTube sensation into a bonafide indie-pop star. Tracks like 'Bags' and 'Sofia' - both of which chronicle crushes she's had on other women - became anthems for other gay or bisexual women, sparking fan comments such as "Every day is hard, but this makes it a little easier. Thanks for existing." Despite the outpouring of support, something much darker was brewing behind the scenes: as Claire rose to a moderate level of stardom, she got a bigger taste of the music industry than she bargained for.
The gut-punch line from this record's lead single is the fiercely delivered passage: "If touch could make them hear, then touch me now." In a remarkable interview with Rolling Stone
, Cottrill elaborated on Sling
's cornerstone verse: "That line is really important to me, because it just captures so much of what that experience feels like," she said in a reference to being asked out multiple times while attending recording sessions alone. "I was pissed off. I was pissed off that that's a part of this, and that I'm just supposed to accept the fact that that's a part of it...I put in so much effort, but is it going to get to a point where I'm just overly sexualized again? You're so desperate for someone to hear you out that you just let them do it." The idea is conveyed again when she sings, "Why do I tell you how I feel / When you're too busy looking down my blouse?" On an otherwise breathtaking folk tune reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers singing an Elliott Smith song, it's a dark cloud that hangs over the track's wispy, delicate atmosphere.
It's no wonder that Cottrill contemplated walking away from her career after touring for Immunity
. She found herself steeped in depression and going through the motions at shows: "I felt like I was in someone else’s body...When there’s, like, 40 shows, it’s easy to feel like you’re not even there. But we forget that someone has planned a whole weekend around it. You just feel like a fucking asshole." The fast life turned her into someone she wasn't, and her desire to slow down is evidenced throughout Sling
's lyrical fabric - from 'Bambi' ("Rushing so I can beat the line / But what if all I want is conversation and time?") to "Amoeba" ("I can hope tonight goes differently / But I show up to the party just to leave"). She was so determined to get out of the limelight that she initially rejected an offer from Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey) to collaborate on her upcoming album. As far as Claire was concerned, there was simply nothing to work on. She'd had enough.
Fortunately, she eventually accepted that offer and met with Antonoff at Allaire Studios in upstate New York - a twenty acre hidden estate with no internet footprint, located right on top of a mountain. She ended up spending a month there, getting away from everything except her rekindled interest in music, her newfound "big brother" Antonoff, and her dog Joanie - whose paw can be seen cradling Claire's face on the album cover. The experience proved to be nothing short of healing, as Cottrill went from writing about what she feels
to getting at the root of the problem. It's why Sling
doesn't care for bops: it's a retreat; a desire to move away from the kind of material that fans sing along to in a crowded venue. That's a path Claire has already walked, and she didn't like what she saw. Sling
sees her creating more serious and introspective pieces with a confident voice, using her art to further her own ambitions rather than a pair of lusting eyes.
might lack the immediacy of its predecessor, but this particular work means so much more. That's why on the opener, when she sings, "I'm stepping inside a universe designed against my own beliefs", you feel it
. It's an indictment of the music industry and its unfair treatment of women; a microcosm of society at-large. Sling
's aesthetically breathtaking snow globe is undermined by Cottrill's serious battles with life-threatening depression ("I'm afraid I've been talking to the hotline again / I blocked out the month of February for support"), uplifted by crucial self-affirmation ("Know myself better than I have in years / I don't know why I have to defend what I feel"), and invigorated by her own promise ("A flash to the upbringing of the child, the canine / What will become mine / I'm doing it for my future self"). As she delivers such shy yet clever verses, Sling
does what all excellent folk records should: tell a story, and provide a glimpse inside the narrator's mind during that process. Sling
's only real fault is that the melodies don't stick, but knowing the plight behind Claire's music makes it worth returning to again and again. Albums like that always seem to win us over in the end.
is very much the anti-Immunity
. Whereas that album sang about conflicted feelings over same-sex attraction, Sling
looks around at the world and asks why anyone should feel that way. Immunity
was melodically convex, pushing its hooks to the forefront of trickling beats and guitar fuzz, while Sling
is concave - inviting listeners inside with its soft woodwinds and elegant strings. There will undoubtedly be some fans who are alienated by this effort, but this is a cathartic moment for Cottrill. Honestly, it's the only reason she's still making any music at all. Sling
sees Claire coming to terms with her mental illness (depression), reckoning with sexism, and most importantly learning to work towards her own goals. Whether it's creating the folk album that she "always wanted to make", adopting a dog, pondering her potential as a mother, or purchasing five acres in her home state of Massachusetts to convert into a barn studio, Claire is figuring out Claire. This album is a byproduct of all that soul-searching, and an essential step towards merging Clairo the artist with Claire the person. Thanks to Sling
, now they're closer than ever.