(Digital Download - Republic #)

Review by Marcy Donelson

Taking another turn in what to this point has been a shape-shifting young career, Clairo leaves behind any trace of the pop and electronic luster present on her major-label debut, the Rostam-produced Immunity, as well as the quirky bedroom pop of her teens on the follow-up, Sling. Her debut for Republic Records, Sling was co-produced by Clairo and man of the hour Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent), and together they instead embrace a strikingly intimate, '70s-evoking orchestral folk-rock palette that relies on instruments spanning piano, upright bass, and lap steel to Wurlitzer and clavinet. The two multi-instrumentalists recorded the album over the course of a month in an isolated studio in the Catskills. What they captured is an often suffocatingly internal habitat, one where breathy, murmured vocals and close, Elliott Smith-like multi-tracking or harmonizing (Lorde lent additional vocals to some of the songs) are transported further inward by dreamy, delicate arrangements full of shimmer and harp-like flourishes, as on the warped "Wade." Like many of the tracks here, that song opens with simple accompaniment -- in this case, piano -- then adds light touches of lap steel before settling into a humming harmonic fabric where it becomes difficult to distinguish instruments. Eventually, horn-like timbres usher in a key change, as Clairo philosophizes on past relationships, depressions, and transitions ("If you don't do the things you do/They'll just happen to you"). It includes a dreamlike instrumental passage that lands something like the poppy field scene in The Wizard of Oz. That song also contains a false ending and quasi-denouement, a structure that recurs on tracks including the closer, "Management" ("Complain to the management about my lack of self-respect"). The latter song adds tempo changes to the scheme. The closest thing to a straight-up pop song on Sling is probably the uptempo, drum kit-bolstered "Amoeba," if only relatively speaking, though "Blouse" is an elegant highlight that's self-possessed enough to work outside of the album's otherworldly context (it was selected as the lead single). While melodies are largely stagnant on Sling, and lyrics swing between grievance and self-realization (occasional stand-out turns of phrase include the opening lyrics, "I'm stepping inside a universe designed against my own beauties"), the album's ruminative atmospheres are its defining -- and likely haunting -- strength.

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