Claire “Clairo” Cottrill became a successful musician before she knew what she wanted to sound like, an internet-fuelled head-start that opened many doors and won her a record deal, but also put her in some places where she didn’t quite fit. She became a key figure in the female-led “bedroom pop” sound, a lo-fi genre that has exploded meekly in recent years thanks to this Massachusetts 22-year-old as well as Girl in Red, Beabadoobee, Dodie and mxmtoon. That was mostly thanks to her song Pretty Girl, a piece of plastic lounge pop from 2017 whose amateurish bedroom-filmed clip has now been watched over 75 million times.
On her Soundcloud page you can still find home-recorded originals from eight years ago, all very cute but none suggesting that she would go on to support Dua Lipa and Khalid around the arenas. She provided guest vocals on dance tracks by Danny L Harle, Charli XCX and Mura Masa, her understated voice feeling better suited to home listening than the dancefloor. On her excellent debut album, Immunity, in 2019, she mixed indie rock guitars and polished electronic sounds, but still sounded like someone standing way to the left of a mainstream pop star.
This follow-up feels like the point where she steps confidently into a space that completely suits her. Its sound palette will surprise existing fans: chamber pop strings, muted brass, piano and acoustic guitar. Bambi sets the unhurried tone, with the instruments meandering around each other and Clairo taking a leisurely run-up towards singing her first words.
Sling has been produced with Jack Antonoff, who has helped to give a similarly folksy, Laurel Canyon feel to recent music by bigger names Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift and Lorde. The latter sings backing vocals on the dusty country-folk of Reaper and the lead single Blouse, just as Clairo sang on Lorde’s new single Solar Power. There’s a feel of casual collaboration, of great musicians gathered in one room rather than multi-tracked 21st Century pop production.
It’s all highly beautiful, with small touches gradually revealing themselves, such as the curving guitar line that arrives towards the end of Zinnias, and the piano chords that suddenly lift the pace of the pastoral instrumental Joanie. Most impressively, it sounds like it has no intention of being performed in those arenas. She sounds mature and ambitious, but also like she’s back in that bedroom, holding her songs up to your ear with the lightest touch.