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Clairo’s ‘Immunity’ Proves Her Viral Success Was No Fluke

The Massachusetts indie-pop singer-songwriter and internet-breaker makes an impressive LP debut, with help from Rostam Batmanglij.

clairo

Hart Leshkina

“I was 15 when I first felt loneliness/Cut my hair, only listened to Loveless,” sings Clairo on “White Flag.” Who can’t relate? My Bloody Valentine’s ur-shoegaze landmark — a deep sonic cave that remains one of the best hiding-from-the-world listening experiences ever — is a fitting namecheck on this beautiful debut, which sounds nothing whatsoever like it. But Immunity does recall the sweet ‘90s moment when the line dividing DIY indie-rock and mainstream pop was wildly blurred, a moment that empowered lots of great art, even as the alt-culture street-cred cops were taking names.

Immunity arrives nearly 2 years-to-the-day that Claire Cottrill posted “Pretty Girl” to YouTube, which looked and sounded for all the world like a selfie clip of a teen holed up in her bedroom — earbuds in, hair down, slurping what looks like a super-jumbo iced coffee, pimpled, dressed in an oversized college sweatshirt (in-between jump-cuts to t-shirts and other absent-minded hairstyles) — singing love-lorn, self-actualize-y pop into her computer’s camera. That her dad happens to be a formidable figure with well-positioned music biz contacts may, or may not, have had a lot to do with it. Whatever the case, it was a compelling and convincing art meme, and at last check, had 36 million views.

Immunity is no less convincing, and even more compelling. Clairo has a playful melodic sense and a pretty soprano voice, with half-whispered edges, like someone for whom speaking up isn’t first nature. Her delivery balances pop earnestness with a matter-of-factnesss, verging on deadpan, that feels of the moment. And she co-produces the set smartly with help from Rostam Batmanglij, ex- of Vampire Weekend, a guy one imagines has some familiarity with indie-culture backbiters, and whose aesthetics seems well-suited to a musician who came of age in an era where Liz Phair and Rihanna and The Softies can rub shoulders on anyone’s Spotify playlist. You hear Batmanglij’s fingerprints on “Impossible,” which plays out over a “Funky Drummer”-style beat in the vein of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Am Stretched On Your Grave,” a song whose emotional rawness it quietly shares, and “Sofia,” with similar echoes of those signature Vampire Weekend harpsichord runs — at this point, as good a pop metaphor for a certain type of young American class anxiety as any artists have coined in the past couple decades. “Closer to You” is all snarly synth bass, clattering trap percussion and processed vocals, and it communicates its passions no less clearly. More ambitious is “I Wouldn’t Ask You pt. I & pt. ii,” a vaguely “Royals”-like conflation of pop-superstar metaphors and the way the rest of us live that enlists a children’s choir towards ends that never quite come into focus.

But mostly, Clairo’s unfiltered writing makes itself powerfully plain. “Alewife” relates a brush with suicidal ideation over delicate acoustic guitar and dramatic drums, with dollops of drone and distortion. “Sofia,” with snappy drums by Danielle Haim, is explicitly about loving a girl, and according to the singer, so is the single “Bags,” a sparklingly fretful love song that sounds like something K Records might have issued in more stripped-down form in 1993. Except it’s 2019, and the YouTube posting has racked up 3.6 million streams by listeners who, whatever their orientation, likely ache like Clairo aches. She turns 21 this month so raise a glass; as pop success stories go, this is a refreshing one.

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