The Lowdown: In the context of web-native artists circa 2019, a full-length album almost seems old-fashioned. Twenty-year-old Claire Cottrill, who records as Clairo, stirred backlash with the early viral success of her 2017 song “Pretty Girl”, which she recorded in her bedroom (to date, it has over 36 million streams on YouTube). With the release of Immunity, she should finally put any lingering questions about the caliber and longevity of her talent to rest.
While it’s true that Clairo’s earliest songs were technically recorded in her bedroom, the moniker “bedroom pop” never quite felt ambitious enough. The lo-fi pop songs that Cottrill has recorded thus far as Clairo are intimate and close, frequently even sweet, but there’s a kind of quiet devastation in the way that she wields minute details to offer glimpses into her life and relationships — a razor blade in the Halloween candy. Immunity introduces a new, full-bodied, and expansive ethos to her sound, maturing it and moving it forward in a way that doesn’t sacrifice any of the pajama-clad intimacy that made those early releases so instantly compelling.
Clairo has a knack for distilling weighty moments down to their most basic elements, rendering flawless portraits with just a few minimalist brushstrokes. She teamed up with Rostam Batmanglij as a co-producer and co-writer on Immunity, and the two agreed that the drums should always bang, which they do. The crystal-clear vision, however, is completely hers. Throughout an expansive-sounding 11 tracks, Clairo delineates previously uncharted territory in the emotional landscape, outlining a genre that touches on R&B, ’80s and ’90s vaporwave beats, and, sure, DIY pop. Ultimately, the sound feels almost exclusively hers.
The Good: Being a teenager (or a human, really) can be a lonely business, and many of the songs on Immunity embody a yearning for connection. “Alewife” (Clairo grew up in Massachusetts, and the title refers to a train station in Cambridge) addresses a friend, one who seems to know her as intimately as a partner. “I know you saved me from doing something to myself that night,” she sings over clattering, distorted drums and fuzzy guitar. It is bare-bones and lush at the same time, in the way that only a Clairo track can be.
Clairo’s vocal delivery has been characteristically flat in the past, but a new style emerges on songs like “Impossible”, “Softly”, and “Feel Something”, one that feels ever-so-slightly influenced by the sugary sweetness of, say, Ariana Grande. “Bags” is a standout among standouts, Technicolor and vibrant, even as Clairo deadpans lines like “Can you see me using everything to hold back?” above a sturdy drumbeat courtesy of Danielle Haim. “Softly” sounds like it should be blaring from a blown-out speaker on a summer night, even as the beat gets murkier and more muddled, mirroring the mixed signals that Clairo is receiving from the song’s subject. “White Flag” finds her singing “I was 15 when I first felt loneliness” above a choppy beat, reflecting on the insularity and claustrophobia of her childhood small town. Album closer “I Wouldn’t Ask You” is stripped down like a hymn, finding humanity and emotion in Auto-Tuned vocals as Clairo excavates the space between independence and the vulnerability necessary for intimacy.
The Bad: The vocals sometimes meld into the mix on Immunity, making lyrics hard to decipher on several songs, including “White Flag”, “North”, and opener “Alewife”, which was probably an intentional choice. Still, this production detracts from the moment. It’s one of the few criticisms that can be leveled at an otherwise excellent debut album.
The Verdict: At 20, Clairo is already such a fully-formed artist that it’s nothing short of thrilling to envision where she’ll go from here. Immunity highlights her vulnerabilities while showcasing the full range of her formidable strength as a producer and songwriter.
Essential Tracks: “Alewife”, “Bags”, “Softly”, and “White Flag”