In your life, you act as the protagonist, a role assigned at random that one never auditions nor prepares for. The weight of existence, what one endures and enjoys, is yours to undergo alone. Growing older gives you perspective, which leads to the realization that others play the lead in their own adaptations of life. As you grasp this, you begin to understand your experience is not the center of the universe, even though it is the center of your own.
Life is a constant grapple between this juxtaposition. No matter how affecting your performance is, its greatest impact is only felt by you. How do you ask for help with reality’s challenges when you know others may not understand or even have it worse, but the individual pressure of your own threatens to swallow you whole? When 20-year-old Claire Cottrell sings “I guess it could be worse” about the waning of her relationship, she exists inside the paradox between the bright side and personal stakes.
The title Immunity possibly refers to a resistance to the crushing weight of reality. Clairo garnered notice for her knack at detachment, a quality of her music that can be seen as defensive, and ironically as a result, relatable. It’s about not wanting to appear too dramatic or needy all at once, instead relying on nonchalance to convey and maintain control. For an entire verse, Clairo innocently reminisces and rambles until it concludes. “Don’t you see how much I want your help?” she asks on “Impossible”, never giving a direct signal but hoping the details might just give her motives away.
With its dream-pop leanings, Clairo’s soft voice, and the indie sensibilities of Rostam Batmanglij, Immunity exudes a cool composure that belies its problems. “Alewife” begins her story at the moment it nearly ended, a series of suicidal thoughts and the friend who saves her from them. Its minimalism, no chorus, and blurry instrumental background let things calmly unfold for her and the listener. The guitars and lax percussion of the album move each song forward like a cool summer breeze, unobtrusive and only forceful enough to carry Clairo along.
Sometimes her numbness feels like a protective barrier (“Bags”, “Softly”) but at others, it comes across as part of the human condition in 2019. “I was 15 when I first felt loneliness,” Clairo discloses on “White Flag”, coincidentally the track where her voice sounds the most direct. Both mental and physical conditions, the latter described on “Sinking”, lead to suffering and feelings of isolation: “Why does it feel like I’m older than I asked to be?” Downplaying or entirely silencing your misery is not the proper path, but it is one many people often take. By guiding listeners down her path, Clairo reveals and empathizes with the feelings of seclusion and anxiety so many bear on their own.
Up to its very end, Immunity presents its struggles as unobtrusively as possible. “I Wouldn’t Ask You” is a “thank you” and “sorry to bother you” all in one, a combination complemented by the song’s shift in style and tempo midway through. For someone so young, Clairo has a clear grasp of the conundrums faced by people the world over: the difficulty of asking for help in an age that sees such requests as a weakness. Her aural apathy allows her to gain her listeners’ trust and respect, because nothing conveys control, and therefore power, quite like a cool exterior. But, once roped in, said listeners then face the forthright lyrics that reveal Clairo as someone without all the answers.
“Don’t you know that life is rarely ever fair?” Knowing this truth doesn’t make living any easier, yet Immunity hints at the positives of acknowledging this lesson. It’s an album which struggles to ask for assistance but never pretends to be entirely above it, either. If that isn’t a universal human struggle, then what else is?