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Burn Movie Review

Sizzlingly Odd
In his debut feature, writer/director Mike Gan has created a small film that, if there's justice, will attain a cult-like status. "Burn" takes place in the course of one evening and entirely within the confines of a rural, out-of-the-way gas station shop.
It's the kind of place that loners might wander into for a hot cup of coffee at 3am. Obviously this is not a big budget film, but Gan squeezes an awful lot of goodness out of it. Maybe we should call it badness.

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Clairo - Immunity Music Album Reviews

On her debut album, the young viral star moves beyond the lo-fi bedroom-pop of her early recordings and into a restrained, detailed style of songwriting all her own.

Clairo’s breakout single “Pretty Girl” went extremely viral: a lo-fi video shot webcam-style amid dorm-room decor, and a sardonic popular-feminist message (“I could be a pretty girl, shut up when you want me to”) that was an easy in even for those who didn’t normally scour the online lands for bedroom pop. But preceding that chorus was a verse with a precisely observed snapshot of the moment one notices there’s nothing anymore where heartbreak used to be: “Polaroid of you dancing in my room… I think it was about noon/It’s getting hard to understand how you felt in my hands.” It’s a careful bit of writing belied by its hype, and an early indicator that Claire Cottrill’s heart lay in songwriting, not content production. And with a new EP soon after, Cottrill had already moved past it: “I’m hoping [Diary 001] can close off the bedroom-pop era of Clairo, and I can move on to some other things.” On her debut album Immunity, she proves this decisively.


Immunity brings in new personnel—produced by Rostam Batmanglij, mixed by Dave Fridmann, assisted on drums by Danielle Haim—for a new direction. Clairo’s often compared to one of her teenage idols Frankie Cosmos, both for making lo-fi pop and for becoming entangled in some exhausting discourse about her father’s bankroll and industry ties. But where Frankie Cosmos’ spiritual precursor is college rock, Clairo’s, at least on Immunity, is soft rock. The uptempo tracks are breezy and chill; the ballads are lush and deeply felt. Reverb’d keyboards abound. Several tracks have children’s choirs, but—if such a thing is possible—subtle ones. The fit is surprisingly natural; she certainly sounds much more at ease here than on the likes of an earlier collaboration like “B.O.M.D.,” where Danny L Harle’s trop-pop fripperies sound in retrospect at odds with Cottrill’s plainspoken voice.

Perils do lie this way; much of Immunity approaches the very sad, very posh, and very produced ballads of adult-contemporary drears like London Grammar or Låpsley. (“Feel Something” comes closest to this sound; not coincidentally, it’s the weakest cut.) But, crucially, the album only tiptoes up to the edge of huge production and no further. It’s truly remarkable how many of these tracks, if they were produced even one iota larger, would collapse into mush, and how much restraint it must have taken not to blow them up that big. Opener “Alewife” builds, but modestly: a recorder counterpoint, a little drum fill, some light guitar fuzz, less of a breakdown than a heart skip. “Closer to You” could have been easily overpowered either by the 808s and Heartbreak-style AutoTune on the verses or the power-ballad guitar on the chorus; it isn’t. The children's choirs and vocal processing on “I Wouldn’t Ask You” aren’t there to make the song swell but to dissolve away, leaving a sparse, almost hymn-like arrangement of piano, Cottrill’s un-vocoded melody, and nothing else. “Sofia” is powered by a “Dancing on My Own” synth chug—about the most surefire banger fodder there is—but one that remains in the background beneath crackly, distorted guitar (a late addition). The closest thing to trend-chasing is “Softly,” a Y2K pop-R&B ballad like something TLC or Mya might have recorded as an album track—which is far from bad.

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The restraint isn’t just there to be tasteful, but to keep the focus on Cottrill’s voice and words, which have become touchstones for what seems like a full generation of listeners. “You can barely hear what I’m saying on all of my demos on Soundcloud. Maybe that was a style thing or an insecurity thing. Maybe it’s both,” she told Vice of her old music. That’s standard interview stuff, the lorem ipsum of the lo-fi artist who’s graduated to hi-fi. But it’s also true: up front and clear, Cottrill’s voice exudes a quiet warmth and intimacy, whether confessing a personal crisis on “Alewife” (named for the Boston T stop) or realizing she’s fallen for a girl friend in “Sofia"—going from “I think we could do it if we tried” to “Oh my god, I think I’m in love with you" in two verses’ span, as if she’s only just realized it mid-track, in real time.

Last year, Clairo came out as bisexual, and she’s said much of Immunity is about the accompanying experience: crushing on friends, looking for unspoken signs, generally dealing with feelings that one’s still grappling with being possible, let alone reciprocated. For every outright love song there’s one, like breakthrough single “Bags,” that dwells in the everyday and the liminal spaces therein. What Clairo sings about is mundane but charged—watching TV, “wasting time on the couch,” but also dropping hints (like a subtle Call Me By Your Name reference in the verse) and tentatively offering that if the song’s subject were to make a move she wouldn’t mind, really. The melody of the chorus is morose, a flattened affect and a resigned shrug: “I guess this could be worse/Walking out the door with your bags” All the feeling is in the instrumental, chiming above, quietly gorgeous. “Can you see me using everything to hold back?” Clairo sings, and though she’s referring to her crush, she could just as well be singing about Immunity. The effort sounds effortless.


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