Merely 2 years after her debut full-length album Immunity, Atlanta-born singer-songwriter and bedroom pop lynchpin Clairo returns with the most touching and eye-opening album in recent memory inspired by a dog. Simultaneously opulent and warm, and featuring production from Jack Antonoff, Sling is a placid walk around the lake with a more mature, epiphanic Clairo.
Complete with beautifully mixed bass, clavinet, and Wurlitzer piano, the ultimately sombre and cynical lyrical content of “Bambi” sees Clairo muse on a situation where she finds herself trapped, in a way. A popular supposition is that the track has to do with her involvement with the music industry as a whole. What it took for her to get where she is, the callous and often capitalist nature of music industry execs and how it flies directly in the face of why many make music in the first place: to present an aspect of themselves to the world in a more authentic fashion.
“Amoeba” strides in with a gentle jaunt, easily the most energetic on the album. The beginning of Clairo’s more critical turn inward where she acknowledges her behaviour and how it might be affecting her state of mind. The whirlwind of doing things with no real reason, living life in a holding pattern focused on the wrong things, only to briefly touch on some sort of epiphany on the matter. A recurring reference to these “gaps” (Between the gaps, I was swimming laps/ Got close to some epiphany, […] Between the gaps, keep it under wraps/ How I got to some epiphany) allude to the fact that there’s no inherent perpetuity to these patterns; that there’s enough downtime in between the parties and distractions for her to realise that something’s off.
Primarily having to do with a one-sided relationship, Clairo takes on a further despondent tone a la Stevie Nicks on “Partridge.” Utilizing an arrangement that falls back enough to keep her vocals prominent, the instrumentation fills in the blanks with a delicate tapestry of velveteen bass tones, sparse electric guitar, and wistful Hammond organ passages. Bidding for attention in any way she can, by the end of the song she’s apologetic, practically having let go (“I’m sorry I have to hold you longer than you expected/ It’s only temporary”).
“Zinnias” comes as a coy reference to a type of flower that happens to grow in her hometown of Marietta, a suburb just northwest of Atlanta. Falling in line with the song’s overarching theme of the desire for a more domestic life, she calls upon the sensation of the “dead heat” that so enraptured her mother, as well as the allure of living down the street from her sister to add to the literal familiarity of the projected situation.
“Blouse,” the lead single from the album, has Clairo communicate through what sounds like an antebellum funeral hymn her personal experience with being sexualized in a professional setting. In the first verse alone, she literally and metaphorically sets the table: “Napkins on laps, strands pulled back/ I hang the scarf and my mom’s anorak.” With mentioning the specific lineage of the anorak as well as the detail throughout, there’s a sense of emotional gravitas set immediately to counteract the objectification she expands on later. There’s an important progression to be stated here not only for the sake of the topic at large, but for Clairo herself. In a tweet from June of 2020, she discounts her own strength or ability to speak on such a matter. Having her come full circle to outline it with such gruesome efficacy, with or without the context of the rest of the album, is moving beyond words.
A sort of thematic sister song to “Amoeba,” “Wade” deals with the same feeling of being a bystander in one’s own life; though this time with a bit of a wider lens. Zooming out to the entirety of a natural human life, Clairo employs a more cavalier tone and encourages the listener to take charge in what they want to do and be more active in their ambitions, lest it all catch up to them when they can’t do as much about it. Another track nestling biting wisdom in a tender instrumental passage, sown with autumnal woodwinds, jovial kalimba, ukulele, and trumpet arrangements.
As “Wade” is to “Amoeba,” “Harbor” is to “Partridge.” Serving as more of a denouement, Clairo embraces the finality that comes with dealing with such an emotionally unavailable and avoidant partner. Lines such as “Maybe you keep me around / For the constant affirmations” and “Carried you all the way upstairs / So you can sleep and I can think” highlight just how lopsided the relationship is, driving her later in the song to even try to take on the same aloofness and save herself the emotional labor. Seeming to use her eyes as metaphorical valves for this energy, she finally commits to letting go of the burden and stands up for herself, asserting “You don’t love me that way,” a final iteration on the story that can be read from the last lines of the stanzas in the latter half of the track.
The conversation around mental health in general has grown more ubiquitous in the past few decades, and current trends would dictate that it’ll only become a greater talking point until something is more meaningfully done about getting people the help they need. One such example comes by way of “Just For Today,” in which Clairo alludes to the night she joined the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There’s a sense of dismay as she illustrates being draped in bedsheets, receiving the terse comfort of “It just takes time.” She finds herself frustrated with having to wait to get better, asking “Since when did taking time take all my life?” While not an entirely unique subject in nature, the most novel sentiment reveals itself in the final chorus.
A prevailing anxiety for a lot of younger women nowadays, “Reaper” grasps with the tentative nature of bringing kids into the world as it is. The last bit of “Just For Today” saw a more gracefully mature Clairo encounter her hypothetical child as they share their own struggles with mental illness, whereas Reaper encounters a more looming and intimidating side of that coin. The shame that comes with getting to a certain age and not having a concrete answer to this antiquated idea of legacy that’s been so prevalent over the years, especially with women. Further referencing the aforementioned child, however transposed back a few years, she laments “I’ll spare you pain, I can feel my shame creep through the floor / I can’t fuck it up if it’s not there at all.” In spite of the grim atmosphere of the song overall, she still makes sure to outline specific plans as though it’s more of an inevitability. Overall, it doesn’t come off as a paralyzing fear of having kids, again in congruence with the rest of the album, but more of an acquiescence of an inevitability.
The gravity and impending nature of a more settled life can come as a due terror, especially when exacerbated by a public health crisis. Sling—while ultimately releasing mid-summer—presents a more melancholic side of Clairo that will undoubtedly gain momentum as we approach the autumn months.