The sophomore full-length from Clairo, Sling is an album with its own charmed atmosphere, graced with the easy warmth of a far lovelier era but wholly the outcome of her bright and restless mind.
In creating such a self-possessed and lavishly orchestrated body of work, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist co-produced alongside Golden Globe/Grammy Award-winner Jack Antonoff, recording at the famed Allaire Studios in Upstate New York and adorning each track with so much unexpected detail: opulent string arrangements, dreamy textures spun from Moogs and Mellotron, vocals sometimes quadruple-layered to majestic yet tender effect.
As Clairo reveals, Sling’s lyrical element was largely informed by living with her family during quarantine and by the recent adoption of her dog, a Chow Chow/Great Pyrenees mix named Joanie. “When I got Joanie, I started changing my routines and habits to healthier ones, to try to create an environment where she felt comfortable and happy,” she says. “It made me realize I hadn’t been doing that for myself, and that I need to look at myself with the same respect that I’d give to someone or something I care about.” That realization soon sparked a period of intense self-questioning, partly focused on the possibility of motherhood in her future. “A lot of this record came from asking, ‘What do I need to mend in my life before I even think about having a kid, so I don’t project my issues onto them?’” says Clairo. “It led me to write about things I hadn’t wanted to address before (my insecurities, experiences with men and the industry), but acknowledging those things made me feel like there was a way to turn them into something better.”
The follow-up to her 2019 full-length debut Immunity—an album that landed on best-of-the-year lists from the likes of Pitchfork, The Guardian, Noisey, and NME—Sling is best absorbed in its spellbinding entirety. With its delicate percussion and lush flute melodies, “Bambi” immediately sets the album’s unhurried pace as Clairo softly narrates her ambivalence about ascending to strange new heights in her career. On “Amoeba,” she shares a radiant piece of sunshine-pop with a pensive undercurrent. “It’s about prioritizing the wrong things,” says Clairo. “I’d go out on tour and forget to call my family and my friends, forget to eat, then come home and realize my hair’s falling out because I’m not taking care of myself.” One of several tracks featuring background vocals from Lorde, “Blouse” unfolds in heavy-hearted harmonies and lilting strings, a deeply affecting backdrop to Clairo’s meditation on the degrading behavior of men in power. “I think a lot of people know that feeling of having to compromise a part of yourself in order to be heard,” she says. “You finally get to where you’ve hoped to be for so long, and there’s just this guy looking down your shirt.”
With its songs also examining the longing for domesticity (on “Zinnias”), unmet expectations in relationships (“Harbor”), and mental health (“Just for Today,” “Little Changes”), Sling closes out with a shapeshifting epic called “Management” (as in “Complain to the management/About my lack of self-respect/Fast-forward to when I have friends/And men who don’t interject”). “That song is about wanting so badly to have a home and really feel capable on my own, but not knowing when or how I can do that,” she says. “I’d written a bunch of piano parts and figured out ways to mend them together, and it turned into something completely different from anything I’d ever done before. It showed me a whole other side of myself, and I’m so thankful for that.”
Her debut release for Republic Records, Sling provided countless moments of revelation for Clairo, a factor she partly attributes to the enchanted surroundings of their studio in the Catskills. “We were on top of a mountain for a month and saw no one else,” she says. “It was such a time warp, like we were living in a different world.” Although a number of guest musicians contributed to the album’s vast and kaleidoscopic arrangements, most of the instrumentation was handled by Clairo (on guitars, piano, Wurlitzer, and kalimba) and Antonoff (on everything from lap steel to upright bass to clavinet). “It was so great to make a record with someone who understood exactly what I was going for, and who wanted me to take the reins and have real control over the project,” she points out.
Since completing Sling, Clairo has found a new home for herself and Joanie, a house in the forest of a remote mountain town. “I’ve always dreamed of moving to the mountains, and I’m so happy I made it happen instead of waiting for a better time,” she says. For Clairo, the decision to fulfill that dream has much to do with the clarity she gained through the making of Sling. “Both of my albums so far have been about me on the brink of figuring something out, or going through a major change that alters my life in a good way,” she says. “Before I made this record, I’d always been so scared of implementing boundaries—in a way I’m still scared of that. But I’ve gotten to a place of feeling safer in my skin, less anxious, more open to considering my own needs. It’s helped me to see that there’s a way to save myself from the things that make me unhappy.”