Clairo’s Immunity is a mood-centric pop album that never sacrifices the fundamental unit of the song, a proud display of minimalism that doesn’t rely on trendy fingersnaps and economic use of space but stirs up inhabitable environments with only a few ingredients. If this is “bedroom pop” it’s less because of where it was made or even how it sounds than how it feels—like pillows and bedsheets and blankets, from under which Claire Cottrill scarcely needs to come out to make her presence known.

The 20-year-old is a deceptively skilled singer. You might think, because her voice barely rises above a breathy coo, that she’s lacking in the vocal department. But listen on “Sofia” to how she barely has to raise her voice to bust out the kind of melismas R&B singers let loose when they’re trying to show off at the ballpark. Like Aaliyah, whose smart and sonically forward-thinking pop is a touchstone here, she lets a lot of her most wounding vocal curlicues loose when she seems about to run out of breath.

Aside from the infuriating way she pronounces some of her vowels, there’s not much to connect her to contemporary trends in pop. The production, mostly by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, is full of the same plaintive pianos and faintly glowing pads that inspired Tyler, the Creator when Pharrell put them to use. A faint guitar here and there suggests the more pleasant end of post-grunge, songs like “Semi-Charmed Life” or “Steal My Sunshine.” The synth bass can be overwhelming, as on “Closer to You” and “I Wouldn’t Ask You,” and it might’ve been a prudent decision to hire an electric bassist to accompany Danielle Haim’s live drums.

The drums are central to the personalities of a lot of the songs. The new-jack jaunt of “North.” The urbane, very early-‘00s hip-hop loop on “Softly,” accentuated by a housey little hi-hat in the left corner of the stereo field. The martial rat-tat-tats on “Sofia” that suggest something Serge Gainsbourg might’ve written for an early-‘60s pop starlet like France Gall. The rhythm tracks are rarely less than perfect.

This is not music to get hype to or to belt at karaoke. It won’t piss you off in an Uber at 2 a.m. but might put you pleasantly to sleep. It’ll slip by beautifully in whatever chill playlist you have on in the background while you’re doing laundry or homework or getting high, but it lacks the aggression so much “chill music” hangs onto to keep rock- and EDM-minded listeners interested. Compare Immunity to Tycho’s Weather, a pop album this year with a similar sound palette, to see what I’m talking about.

Immunity could’ve benefitted from a little more energy. The beats on Clairo’s excellent Diary 001 EP last year had an ebullience that contrasted beautifully with her bored voice. Here, her vocals blend in gauzily with the background. There’s no real standout pop song like “Pretty Girl,” and though the songs are mostly great, the hooks aren’t terribly memorable. As a pop album, Immunity could pop a little more, but it’s hard to think of an album in any genre this year with such a singular atmosphere.

A lot of people are surprised I like Clairo as much as I do. I despise few things in music more than artists who use “authenticity” as a crutch on which to hang their music, and few artists in recent years have stirred up as much debate over authenticity as Clairo, whose marketing-exec dad might’ve helped her career even as she proudly touts her lo-fi, DIY aesthetic. If you’ve heard anyone use the phrase “industry plant” this year, they probably learned it from reading about Clairo.

Certainly the singer doesn’t come off as terribly introspective when she says things like “the whole do-it-yourself attitude is everything that I’m about”—least of all in an interview with the Fader, to whose label she’s signed. But she’s not relying on DIY-ness to make her music seem better than it is, the way a folk singer might use the aesthetic of itinerance and poverty to make their music more “real.” Her music stands on its own, and I’d rather a pop star make interesting music and fib a little about their background than make uninteresting music and let their background do all the talking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Hecker/Okkyung Lee: Statistique Synthétique/Teum (The Silvery Slit)

This split contains two not-terrifically-inspiring pieces by two big names in experimental…