Sunday, July 14, 2024

On ‘Charm,’ Clairo Finds Liberation in Lush Seventies Melodies

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After the release of her 2019 debut album Immunity, Claire Cottrill could have capitalized on her music’s virality with another slew of made-for-TikTok bedroom-pop hits in the vein of the LP’s breakout songs, “Bags” and “Sofia.” But on her Laurel Canyon-esque 2021 follow-up Sling, the singer-songwriter opted for a far less commercial route. Amid the pandemic, she retreated to her family’s home in Atlanta where she traded her earlier musings about crushes and awkward growing pains for tales of domesticity and a newfound sense of confidence toward romance. The softer, spacious album, co-produced by Jack Antonoff with backing vocals from Lorde, toyed with psychedelia and retro folk-pop channeling the warmth of songwriters like Joan Baez and Carole King. But those who thought Sling might be a pit-stop or a one-off departure for Cottrill were wrong. 

On her third album Charm, Clairo elevates the aesthetic she introduced on Sling and forges deeper into a lush palette of Seventies melodies. Now 25, she is playfully blurring the lines of pop, R&B, soul and folk with the sounds of the Wurlitzer, mellotron, organ and piano swirling around her. This palpable shift of self-assuredness is due in part to her own coming of age, but also a consequence of her tapping soul and funk savant Leon Michels (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Menahan Street Band) as co-producer. 

While her hushed vocals have always established a sense of closeness within her work, the Clairo of Charm exists as a much more intimate foray. “Second Nature” is a steamy, ever-evolving earworm that oscillates from horn-flanked adult contemporary to anxious keys. “It’s when you’re close enough to touch/I’ve forgotten the point/My train of thought destroyed,” she croons with a dreamy lilt. Teeming with yearning and desire, the flute-flanked “Sexy to Someone” is the epitome of a horny indie-folk anthem. The warm R&B groove of “Juna” allows Clairo to let go of her inhibitions amid a blossoming romance: “You make me wanna/Go buy a new dress/You make me wanna/Slip off a new dress.” Flanked by twinkling piano, her airy vocals float on “Slow Dance” as she navigates the nuances of a situationship. “What is it? That’s keeping one foot out/And the other crawling in bed,” she wonders.

There are also undeniable moments where Clairo builds on the pastoral nature of Sling. There’s the crystalline “Glory of the Snow,” the album’s opener “Nomad,” where her velvety vocals float over a wistful steel pedal and the crushing cymbals of the spacey psych-folk “Echo,” which evokes The Doors. But it’s Charm’s delicate closer, “Pier 4,” that serves as the record’s gut-punch, wrapping up the 11-track album like a cozy knit sweater. The hymn-like number sees Clairo grappling with her public-facing persona and the comfort of an introverted life. “What’s the cost of being loved?/When close is not close enough?” she ponders over a swelling vibraphone.

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While listeners won’t find Brat summer-esque anthems on Charm, the album is a soothing balm, providing an understated rush that’s ultimately just as impactful. What Clairo proves is that craft is paramount and she’s primed to become one of the most revered songwriters of her generation. 

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