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IMMUNITY Robert Barry , August 1st, 2019 09:28

Two years after the break-out success of YouTube hit 'Pretty Girl', Clairo releases her debut full-length album with all her obvious gift for melody still wonderfully intact

Somehow Clairo can sound unaffected, even when her voice is dripping with effects. “I need to hear your voice,” she sings, artfully autotuned deep into some acoustic uncanny valley, and I’m like, same. Something about her delivery, like a secret breathlessly confessed to a close confidante late at night or the hushed denouement of a John Hughes film, makes me want to believe her. And because of that, I keep listening. Apparently this is not a feeling universally shared.

When Clairo – Atlanta-born Claire Cottrill – first broke out, with the YouTube viewing figure smashing bedroom pop single ‘Pretty Girl’ at the tail end of 2017, heckles were raised by the revelation that this apparent underground indie hit was produced by the daughter of a former Proctor & Gamble exec. The phrase “industry plant” was bandied about, somewhat cruelly (and arguably misogynistically). Me, I didn’t give a shit. I was in love with the way she left in the four-click count-in, with the fuzzy felt Casiotone synth sounds, with the gentle sweep and flow of the melody.

Two years down the line and now her debut album, IMMUNITY, is out and it’s simultaneously a gratifying and frustrating listen. A lot of the homespun charm of ‘Pretty Girl’ has been jettisoned. The synths have clearly been given an upgrade. The drums sound expensive. There are musicians here who can play, and are probably on union pay scale. But no amount of major label gloss or ill-advised interposing guitar licks can disguise Clairo’s irresistible melodic gift, and strangely haunting/haunted voice.

Clairo, born 1998, always claimed she had wanted ‘Pretty Girl’ to sound like “80s pop music”. It didn’t, of course. At least, not the kind of 80s pop music that was actually popular. The 80s were on the whole an expensive-sounding decade and ‘Pretty Girl’ sounded – winningly, wonderfully – cheap. There are songs on IMMUNITY that are easily a match for ‘Pretty Girl’ in terms of melody, structure, lyrics, and delivery. Breakbeat-backed ‘North’ is a winner, easily the best song Belly or Throwing Muses or Mazzy Star never wrote. ‘White Flag’ has the heart-breaking swoop and glide and habit-forming sugar rush of The Sundays. ‘Impossible’ has the kind of intimacy and confidence that songwriters with twice Clairo’s reputation and experience would cut off their right arm for. But still, now she can afford to make her songs actually sound like 80s pop – or at least, early- to mid-90s post-grunge pop – I can’t help but miss the makeshift 80s that Clairo once imagined in her bedroom.