Review: “Sling” by Clairo

The artist takes a step away from indie pop with her second album, adding various new elements to her musical repository and putting her songwriting abilities on full display.

by Macy Harder

Clairo – singer, songwriter and poster child of bedroom pop – has returned with her sophomore album, “Sling.” This project demonstrates Clairo’s prowess as a writer, breaks the boundaries defined by her earlier works and incorporates some new musical elements that push her further and further beyond the bounds of an indie pop artist.

“Sling” is a poetic journey through a landscape of heavy, emotional themes, riddled with tender imagery and a sense of unabashed intimacy. With this project, Clairo makes it clear that there’s more to her artistry than simple pop beats, testing the waters of a completely different sound. However, the album takes this step cautiously, which ultimately made for very few memorable tracks.

Right off the bat, it’s obvious that “Sling” will convey a heightened level of musical maturity. The album’s opening track, “Bambi,” incorporates a new instrumental repertoire. Accompanied by steady saxophone and flute melodies, the song has somewhat of a folky edge. “Bambi” is successful in previewing Clairo’s direction for the rest of the album: moving away from the dreamy, lo-fi sound she once championed and trying something new.

Following “Bambi” is “Amoeba,” which has the potential to be the album’s radio hit. The track features upbeat percussion that pushes each verse towards a catchy, earworm chorus. In spite of this, the listener is still left unsatisfied by the song’s lack of a climax. This could be due to the contrast of Clairo’s soft, airy vocals against the funky instrumentation in the chorus, which makes for a mismatch of sounds that prevents the song from going anywhere.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the album’s runtime does not get much more musically exciting.

“Sling” really loses momentum around its middle. “Partridge,” “Zinnias,” and “Wade” continue the stylistic attempts introduced by the first two tracks, but all three seem to blend together and are ultimately forgettable.

Monotonous melodies aside, the album’s midsection is where Clairo begins to demonstrate her abilities as a songwriter. Her older works, like her first studio album “Immunity” and six-track EP “diary 001” are categorized by cute, light-hearted lyrics often centered around being a hopeless teenager in love. But Clairo is older now, and her experiences with relationships, with the music industry and with herself are becoming increasingly complex. She makes this clear on “Sling,” as her previous works didn’t even come close to the level of emotional depth and intimacy she conveys through this project.

It was clear that Clairo was going to be incorporating some heavier themes when she released the album’s only single, “Blouse.” The song is a tender yet devastating embodiment of desperation. Accompanied by a gentle, acoustic guitar, the track opens with Clairo’s description of a seemingly-normal encounter; she depicts sitting quietly at someone’s kitchen table, noting details like the placement of napkins and loose hair strands. The mood changes abruptly with the song’s hard-hitting titular line – “Why do I tell you how I feel? / When you’re just looking down the blouse” – which describes an objectification familiar to many. “It’s something I wouldn’t say out loud / If touch could make them hear, then touch me now,” Clairo repeats alongside orchestral swells, a desperate plea that becomes more heartbreaking each time it’s sung.

As the album winds down, Clairo continues to unpack difficult and complex subject matters with undeniable poetic ease. The eighth track, “Just For Today,” depicts the artist’s struggles with mental health and self-harm. The song also showcases her vocal abilities a bit more than the others, which works powerfully in tandem with the lyrics to make her experiences hit the listener with force.

Towards the end of the tracklist, the album slips back into its routine of simple melodies and soft instrumentals that don’t leave much of an impression on the listener. Although lyrically complex,“Reaper” and “Little Changes” don’t take many musical risks, relying on delicate guitar and piano accompaniments with which the listener is already familiar.

“Management,” the closing track, breathes some life back into the album with its increasing tempo and swirling orchestra. It stands out uniquely against the smooth melodies found in most of the previous songs, making it the grand finale that the album needed. It’s memorable, it’s dynamic and it gives the listener what the majority of “Sling” did not provide.

Ultimately, “Sling” proves that Clairo’s musical capacity does not fit neatly into a box; her talent extends far beyond bedroom pop and simple lyrics. The tracklist plays it safe with repetitive simplicity, which could leave some listeners unsatisfied, but it certainly makes us wonder what else Clairo will bring to the table in the future.

Grade: B