Published Feb 10, 2021How do you take your music to the next level without losing what made it special in the first place? This is the dilemma faced by any artist after their first brush with success.
By definition, bedroom pop musicians — a loose collection of artists with viral stars in their eyes making intimate art on their own terms — should be anathema to this sort of upskilling. Yet, Billie Eilish blew up the bedroom aesthetic to blockbuster proportions, moving the genre's most visible artists from the margins of the Internet towards the mainstream. Today, bedroom pop increasingly describes a musical aesthetic — quiet, warm, intimate — rather than its means of production and plenty of artists (and industry types) are looking to capture even a fraction of the attention Eilish generated. But what happens when you spend thousands of dollars to make music that is supposed to cost pennies?
Sitting at the vortex of this dichotomy is Claud Mintz. Mintz first came to prominence performing as one-half of Toast, and were briefly signed to Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear's Terrible Records, who released Toast's college dorm room-recorded debut back in 2018. Mintz has since kept up a steady stream of singles and EPs under the name Claud, building a fanbase drawn to their plain-spoken tales of modern love and searching for community. They built bridges to like-minded artists, including Clairo, with whom they recently formed a side-project called Shelly, and caught the attention of Phoebe Bridgers, who is releasing Super Monster, Claud's debut album, as the first record on her new label, Saddest Factory Records.
The buzz around Claud's debut would be strong based on its pedigree alone, but Claud seems to be looking beyond the bedroom. Super Monster was recorded at none other than Electric Lady Studios, where artists from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga, the Soulquarians and Kanye West have made genre-defying records. It's the kind of place DAW-based home studios, like the ones Claud and their bedroom pop peers made their names with, were supposed to put out of business. Claud is hardly the first bedroom artist to go hi-fi — Clairo recorded her debut with Danielle Haim, Rostam and Dave Fridmann — but choosing such a hallowed studio is a statement of intent.
To be sure, Super Monster contains all the usual bedroom pop signifiers — light R&B grooves, chorus-drenched guitars à la Mac DeMarco. But Mintz and their close-knit circle of collaborators (including Clairo, former Toast bandmate Josh Mehling, Nick Hakim and Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Jake Portrait) achieve this without succumbing to its pitfalls, namely the thin, washed-out sound that can make every song sound the same.
Super Monster is different. Across its 13 songs, the beats are crisp, the choruses pronounced and the hooks sharp. "Soft Spot" bumps and "In or In Between" is almost funky, neither of which are really things you can say about most bedroom pop. During the coda to "Guard Down," a plead for emotional vulnerability, all the instrumentation cuts out, leaving just a rough recording of Mintz and an acoustic guitar, exposing how layered the production of these songs are while simultaneously exposing the sturdy bones at the foundation of each.
Perhaps most notable is the mutability of Mintz's sound, which they adapt to everything from torch songs ("Rocks at Your Window") to pop-punk ("That's Mr. Bitch to You"). Closer and standout "Falling with the Rain" — featuring Clairo, Mehling and Noa Getzug, essentially making it a Shelly track — is chugging mid-tempo indie rock. Yet, Mintz's indelible fingerprints are all over them.
It's doubtful even its creators could say how much of Super Monster can be credited to the hi-fi environment in which it was created — most of the songs were already written before Claud stepped foot in the studio. And while many artists will rely on their bedroom set-ups out of financial necessity, the album is a roadmap for anyone hoping to keep to open the bedroom door to the world outside without losing the gauzy comfort of home. (Saddest Factory)