Album Review: Claud – Super Monster

[Saddest Factory; 2021]

“I fell in love like a fool overnight,” the first words sung by 21-year old Claud on their debut album Super Monster, perfectly capture the disillusionment of young adulthood. That time when one’s still young enough to feel giddy about a new love, yet old enough to recognize it’s only a matter of time before reality sets in – a realisation of their flaws, along with your own. Claud glides through the song, a bubbly tune aptly titled “Overnight”, over cooing backing vocals and playful riffs that act somewhat like a daydream.

Claud’s examinations of young love and relationships are the lifeblood of Super Monster, a confident album that offers a fair share of fresh takes on this musical equivalent of comfort food. While 21 can be a dizzying age for anyone, this moment for Claud also comes at a turning point in their career. Super Monster is the first album to be released on Phoebe Bridgers’ label imprint Saddest Factory Records. Alongside their longtime collaborator Joshua Mehling (with whom they previously recorded under the name Toast), Claud was joined in the album’s creation by a host of established players including Clairo, guitarist Melanie Faye, Nick Hakim and Jake Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, among others. The album was recorded at Greenwich Village’s historic Electric Lady Studios – a fantasy come true for Claud.

Sonically, Super Monster works within the well-established strains of indie pop and rock that have dominated the genres in recent years. “Soft Spot” and “Ana” evoke the hazy, guitar-strumming dreamscapes of Soccer Mommy and Jay Som. “This Town” shares the approach taken by Phoebe Bridgers – sweeping sonic textures underscoring climactic, purposeful vocals – while maintaining the album’s bedroom aesthetic. While this approach does reap some weaker moments (“Jordan”, though a decent track that showcases Claud’s vocals at their most intimate, gets lost in the shuffle), Super Monster nonetheless makes a compelling case that this is Claud’s lane as much as anyone else’s.

Nevertheless, it’s when Claud pushes past these stylistic tropes that their potential shines. “In Or In Between” – with its teasing guitar hook that works like a sample – has a distinct 1990’s R&B feel. For all its indie-pop leanings, “Guard Down” throws in an unexpected yet satisfying verse featuring deep, distorted vocals (presumably, someone representing their ex). The enjoyable “That’s Mr. Bitch To You” is a power-pop anthem that sees Claud turn an insult hauled at them into a declaration of identity: “I turned my back I’m stronger than you thought / Bet you didn’t know I won’t let a straight man throw me off.” Claud then sends the song over to guitarist Melanie Faye, whose sparkling riffs evoke a neon-colored euphoria.

Even the album’s indisputable breakup songs – highlights “Gold” and “Pepsi” – are injected with a self-assuredness, and touch of fun, that make them enjoyable and relatable. “I need something different than the way this is  / Cause I feel like I’m falling in,” they sing on “Gold” over a beat that’s perfect for soundtracking a one-person dance party. Meanwhile, Claud embraces the glistening intimacy of artists like The Japanese House to examine their falling for someone who’s only emotionally unavailable and manipulative. That they arrive at such a ubiquitous metaphor — “If I’m Pepsi you’re Coke” — speaks to the universality of their emotions. On “Soft Spot”, Claud recalls a recent breakup, only to recognize that ending a relationship doesn’t equate to stopping caring about their former partner. “Cause I’ve got a soft spot  / I’ve got it for you,” they sing with a gentle relief, as if making this breakthrough in real-time.

Claud offers up genuine insights throughout Super Monster, ones that are rooted in a strong sense of self and identity. Sure, they see the reality of adulthood rearing its ugly heads; soon enough, they’ll have to start caring about every choice they make. Yet for now, they’re still young enough to not care too much, to go with the flow, and have some fucking fun.