'Immunity': Clairo Is Laying Claim to It All

BY SARAH JOHN

Listening to Immunity, it’s nearly impossible to believe that Clairo (born Claire Cottril) was made famous by a bouncy, 80’s pop-inspired YouTube hit. But that is exactly the case. Her song “Pretty Girl” took the world by storm in 2017 with its bright, DIY synthpop energy. And then almost overnight, the fuzzy video of teenage Clairo, dancing in pink, cat-eye sunglasses, became the start of a promising musical career. Now, Clairo’s debut album Immunity — released August 2 — has fans buzzing at Clairo’s ability for poignant storytelling and her rapid growth as a musician.

PHOTO: Clairo

PHOTO: Clairo

With this album, the 22-year-old is eagerly broadening her place in the music world.

The album begins with “Alewife,” a rueful piano ballad with gentle strumming guitars, reflecting on a near-suicide experience. Immediately, listeners get the sense Clairo is confidently unveiling something very authentic in Immunity. However, while being brutally open, Clairo also displays a very matter-of-fact, distanced tone in her lyrics and vocals.

Interestingly enough, this careful restraint is a key part of what makes the album so genuinely emotional. We quickly realize there is no need for frills, bells, or whistles on Clairo’s vocals. Her lyrics and melodies speak for themselves. And speak, they do, with a sweet, clear, and melancholy tone.

There’s a simplicity here, an openness that mirrors the one fans saw two years ago in Clairo, the one she had while she danced in her bedroom, as an awkward child in pigtails and baggy hoodies. But it has been refined to a more mature and developed sound, one that can properly lay claim to a place next to fellow out-of-the-box indie contemporaries.

Musically, Clairo has blossomed. Listening to the lively, punchy percussion in “Impossible” or the soulful R&B riffs in “Sinking,” the album feels light-years away from Clairo’s bedroom pop beginnings. The guitar work, new-found focus on her vocals, and prominence of the percussion are all welcome additions to Clairo’s repertoire, that she uses to fluidly transition towards a hi-fi, soft indie rock sound.

“Impossible” sounds vaguely angelic: its breathy open vocals, organ and percussion, and Sunday church choir energy make for a listening experience I can honestly describe as captivating. “Bags,” a single she released before the album, feels like a real and true indie rock anthem, the kind that urges you to bang your head around.

In contrast, some songs had less of an impact on me. I am not sure the autotune on “Closer To You” or the children’s choir in “I Wouldn’t Ask You” left me with quite the desired effect. But these moments of hesitation are few-and-far-between on an album that is an unbelievably impressive debut for Clairo.

Clairo has really built something here, and a lot of that is due to her vulnerability. Immunity features references to Clairo’s juvenile arthritis, insightful thoughts on self-image, and coming-out experience: “Sofia” is not only a spirited, synth-heavy, indie pop song you can dance to, but an earnest look at love, specifically for a girl exploring her bisexuality.

It is evident that in her debut album Clairo is saluting the intimacy of her lo-fi DIY Indie roots, but doing so on tracks that show polished hi-fi production, maturing vocals, and guitar and bass work aided by producer Betmajii of Vampire Weekend fame.

Clairo has said for a long time that she is not just a bedroom pop phenomenon, a one-hit wonder, or in any sense, a musician to dismiss. With this album release, she has proved it.  

Lead Image Credit: Jimi / Instagram