Claire Cottrill made “bedroom pop” before “bedroom pop” became as generic a term as “indie” or “alternative.” As a teen, she made beats and recorded tracks at home, uploading them to Bandcamp and Soundcloud under the names DJ Baby Benz and Clairo. In 2017, she catapulted to internet stardom following her webcam-recorded video for the lo-fi track “Pretty Girl.” In front of a headboard and a wall plastered with maps and a Shins poster, a bare-faced Cotrill mouths along to lyrics about feeling the need to change herself in order to fit into a relationship, swapping sweaters and bringing on a special guest: her Gizmo Funko Pop. The video quickly amassed views on YouTube, and currently sits at more than 75 million. Cotrill next signed to the FADER Label and released her PC-pop EP diary 001, with features from rapper Rejjie Snow and composer Danny L. Harle.
Cottrill’s critically acclaimed debut album Immunity arrived in 2019, with standout singles “Bags” and “Sofia” (about her pop culture crushes like Sofia Coppola) cementing her place as a talented newcomer in genre-bending pop. Former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Rostam Batmanglij lent his production skills to Immunity, with clean percussive melodies, hip-hop-style trap beats, and distorted synths creating an air that contrasted with the somber topics covered throughout the album: Cottrill’s experiences in her queer relationships, depression, and her relationship with herself.
Now, Cottrill delivers her most innately beautiful and well-orchestrated album yet, co-producing Sling with one of contemporary pop’s most prominent producers, Jack Antonoff. With simply stated lyrics, the songwriter ponders how she got to where she is, and how she wishes to move forward. On a vastly different route, Cottrill winds her way through chamber-folk with swelling brass and strings that underline the work and bring life to the story of the singer finding her way back to herself and home.
The opening track, “Bambi,” sways with robust, jazzy saxophones, and the rise and fall of a tingling flute, setting the stage for an artist who feels no closer to finding herself in fame. On “Amoeba,” Cottrill sings about the lack of care she offered herself in the years before, so busy with touring she’d forget to call her friends and family and return from the road with her hair falling out. Antonoff brings what he does best to the song, with a perky piano melody that builds to a moment where the clouds part and the sun shines through, offering a moment of clarity on previous wrongdoings.
Cottrill yearns for domesticity throughout Sling, and the comfort and security of however someone defines “home.” In “Zinnias” she croons, “Sure sounds nice to settle down for a while.” The track keeps listeners on their toes, culminating in a groovy, quick-paced breakdown and a guitar line reminiscent of early Mac DeMarco. The layered vocals of Immunity are turned up to a 10 on Sling, with the help of fellow Gen-Z musician Lorde, who sings backup on “Blouse” and “Reaper.” Cottrill harnesses Americana influences from the Laurel Canyon scene of the ’60s and ’70s, opening the door to heightened intimacy and a bright state of mind.
Cottrill’s stated muse—her Chow Chow/Great Pyrenees pup named Joanie—receives an instrumental tribute on the album. The playful yet pensive tune captures the feelings of joy expressed when bonding and starting a life with a new creature. “Joanie” falls into a steady and calming melody, evoking a certain peace of mind. It’s simple, and precious.
As much as Sling conveys the the beautiful and youthful innocence Cottrill finds in Joanie, the album also touches on the sexualization of young women by the music industry. In a recent interview with The Guardian, she shared the crushing reality that “what this industry does a lot is drain young women of everything until they’re not youthful any more,” a sentiment echoed in the final words of final track “Management”: “I’m old with resentment.”
The first delicate offering from Sling, “Blouse,” brought listeners into what would be a sonically tender era for Clairo, but the lyrics provide a perfect example of the degrading behavior men exhibit against women, even in professional settings. In a newsletter to fans, Cottrill explained the inspiration behind “Blouse”: “you’ve hung your coat, scarf, combed your stray hairs back, and sat down. The table is set, you are equipped and prepared for a professional conversation, and all of a sudden—you see a male colleague staring down your shirt while you’re halfway through a sentence.” On “Management,” she imagines a life for herself filled with friends and men who don’t speak over her, as she balances the grief and guilt she feels for what she’s endured so far. The message is exemplified by her emphasizing her own youth, where she asks, “Mom, would you give me a ring? / One for the ride, and one for the magazine? / ‘She’s only 22.’”
Cottrill says the track 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.” Despite these lingering regrets and grudges, she concludes Sling with a triumph, as she prioritizes herself and her peace of mind, knowing one day she’s gonna step away from it all, and it will just be her and Joanie.
In her newsletter about “Blouse,” Cottrill says that when Joanie entered her life, “all I wanted to do was create an environment that was safe, inviting, secure,” with the realization that she had yet to give that same care to herself. Sling builds out the walls of a safe home. The album offers a space where Cottrill freely expresses herself and her wishes for her life, and she holds no reservations. The last few moments of Sling carry Cottrill away, in an ildyllic walking off into the sunset scene as flutes and strings wisp above. As the songwriter looks forward to to her new home in a tiny Massachusetts town nestled near the Catskills, she’s done a lot of the work in Sling to create a little feeling of home already.