“I never let anybody in,” Clairo sings on the nervy indie-pop of ‘North’. It’s a line that feels more than a little ironic coming from the 20-year-old Claire Cottrill. While she might have her guard up in her personal life, she’s also an artist who has gained a small army of followers for sharing the intimate details of her life with them.
‘Immunity’, her debut album, is the most open the door into her world has ever been. Written after suddenly finding herself the focus of viral success thanks to her 2017 track ‘Pretty Girl’, the record finds the Massachusetts-born, New York-based musician on a voyage of self-discovery, reckoning with the parts that make up who she is. There are sad stories and happy ones, but the overall sense is that telling them to the universe is putting the power back in Cottrill’s hands.
It’s bookended by two of the weightiest songs Cottrill has released so far. Opener ‘Alewife’ quietly looks back to a night when she was 13 and on the brink of suicide. A friend managed to stop her from doing anything irreversible, which she solemnly promises she would have done without an intervention. “Swear I could have done it if you weren’t there when I hit the floor,” she half-whispers, the softly plonking piano fading out and the heartbeat drum rhythms faltering as she does.
On the other side, ‘I Wouldn’t Ask You’ details the rising star’s struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and how that impacted on her college relationship. The first half of the seven-minute song is downbeat and stark, only Cottrill, a sparse piano line and the vulnerable voices of a choir of nine-year-olds working together to reflect the helplessness she felt as her partner lovingly looked after her. Midway through, everything shifts. The gloom clears, programmed drum beats snap in and synths that sound like light breaking through the clouds gently flutter in. In the background, the kids sing a message of strength: “We could be so good / We’ll be alright, we’ll be alright.”
In between the two, Cottrill revisits old heartaches and heartbreaks, and offers a glimpse into her experiences of figuring out her sexuality. On the soft, crackling ‘Feel Something’, she runs into an ex at a party and dejectedly declares: “We could be something special if you wanted / I’m afraid that if we tried to, you would just give up.” The Auto-Tuned, bass-driven ‘Closer To You’, meanwhile, finds her trying to get through to someone she knows is bad for her but she can’t help pursuing.
Cottrill is a master at penning lyrics that make you feel like you’re listening to hushed secrets from a friend, but she also has a knack for crafting melodies and rhythms that make you really feel what she’s going through in any given song. Sometimes that means your body surging with adrenaline, your heart racing and limbs fidgeting, as is the case with ‘Bags’. Written about having feelings for a close friend and the dilemma of whether or not to to tell her, it’s full of nervous energy, epitomised by the unintentional noises escaping from Cottrill’s guitar. As she moves her fingers up and down her fretboard, the sound of her skin on the strings causes a series of deep squeaks that sound as if she’s anxiously taking big gulps or gasping for breath.
At other times, that means joyously flinging yourself around your room, giddy from finally feeling comfortable with who you are. ‘Sofia’, one of the most infectious and lively songs on the album, bounces on a Strokes-y staccato strum and Danielle Haim’s punchy drum beats. It’s already a celebratory moment but it becomes dizzyingly so when a thick layer of distortion fuses its layers together midway through. “I don’t want to say goodbye / I think we could do it if we tried,” the 20-year-old sings as the noise subsides, confidently addressing her first female crushes like Sofia Coppola and Sofia Vergara.
‘Immunity’ is an album to burrow into and become resident in its songs. It’s a comforter that wraps itself around you when you’re feeling low and a resilient reminder that there are brighter times ahead. It’s also a great big gleaming signpost that its creator is one of the smartest, subtlest young musicians around, and someone with plenty more tricks up her sleeve.