Clairo Sling Republic Records
There’s a passage in Sheila Heti’s 2018 novel, Motherhood, that ponders the polarities – or similarities, depending how you see it – between art and parenthood. “Art is eternity backwards. Children are eternity forwards,” she wrote. This idea, that the pursuits of art and parenthood are forever entwined, is something that has been on Clairo’s mind – and it all began with a dog named Joanie.
In the wake of the pandemic, the 22-year-old singer was forced to move back home to her native Atlanta after years of touring her widely-acclaimed 2019 debut album, Immunity. Using this time to reflect and recharge, she adopted a golden-haired companion in a bid to lay some roots. Caring for another living being, as well as reassessing her own relationship with her mother, marked a profound perspective shift for Clairo: she began to view life through the lens of parenthood, through eternity forwards.
This moment of revelation is what has informed much of her highly-anticipated sophomore album, Sling. Heading to upstate New York with man-of-the-moment Jack Antonoff, the record was created in the idyllic surroundings of Allaire Studios. It’s a fitting collaboration for a pop producer that is increasingly favouring the natural sounds of the 70s. Knowing this, it’d be easy to assume that Clairo is in her Joni Mitchell era, looking to the past to understand her present. But there’s a specifically Gen Z quality to Sling; the questioning of gender roles, the uneasiness about the future that is available, the trepid realisation that you’re on the cusp of adulthood.
Blouse, the album’s first single, confronts being perceived by the male gaze. Featuring backing vocals from Lorde – another young artist experiencing a Laurel Canyon renaissance – Clairo ruminates on the degrading behaviour men in power have subjected her to. “Why do I tell you how I feel?/ When you’re too busy looking down my blouse/ It’s funny now I’m just useless and a whore/ But I get a co-sign from your favourite one-man show,” she sighs over warm acoustic strums and sweeping strings. For all its tender arrangements, it’s the album’s most biting observation.
Clairo has always tackled difficult subjects with a slow, considered stride – you only have to look as far as Immunity’s affecting standouts Alewife and I Wouldn’t Ask You. Here, she continues to build on this approach, except now we see a side to Clairo that is more exploratory and curious, even as she climbs up the leagues of pop.
Taken as a whole, Sling evokes the kind of lived-in guitar pop that charms quietly but deeply. However, Jack Antonoff’s creative touches are both the album’s greatest successes and failures: Harbor, a weightless ballad about self-acceptance, eventually falls short with a tinkling piano segment that sounds like a TV jingle. Wade trades its gorgeously bittersweet melodies for a disappointingly predictable key change. Sling may lack the kaleidoscopic vision of the era that influenced it sonically, but there’s plenty to admire. Zinnias arrives straight out of a Girlpool handbook: scrappy, minimal guitars grate under near-deadpan vocals that later burst into an Americana folk hymn. Amoeba channels the spirit of Tapestry-era Carole King, a sophisticated pop song that struts with confidence. Joanie is an instrumental psych odyssey that captures the carefree, childlike energy of the very being that inspired the album.
Perhaps the most revealing track, though, is Reaper, on which Clairo faces up to her existential worries about motherhood explicitly: “I’m born to be somebody then somebody comes from me/ I’ll tell you about the Rabbit Moon and when to keep walking/ I’ll spare you pain, I can feel my shame come through that door/ I can’t fuck it up if it’s not there at all.” Over a plucked country riff, she grapples with the erosion of personhood that comes with becoming and then forever being a mother, the expectations and constant fear of failure.
It’s in these moments where the heart of Sling is found. You could call it a coming-of-age album, but even that feels reductive. Instead, it’s a coming-to-terms album, a focused portrait of a young woman who is finally choosing to treat herself with the generosity that she reserves for those she cares for.