Alessia Cara’s debut album impresses with smooth, mature sound

19-year-old Alessia Cara brings her own original brand of pop music to debut album "Know-It-All." Umusic via Wikimedia Commons

Alessia Cara, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Canada, started her music career at 13 by posting acoustic covers on YouTube. By 18, she signed with EP Entertainment and Def Jam Recordings. Her first EP, “Four Pink Walls,” released on Aug. 26, presented a fresh mix of soulful R&B tracks and pop hits. She released her first full-length album, “Know-It-All,” on Nov. 13.

While the deluxe version of the album includes some of the best pieces from her prior EP, “Know-It-All” presents a lot of new and impressive material from the young star. The 10-track standard version of the album, coming in at a short 35 minutes, aims for quality over quantity. The album opens with “Seventeen,” an upbeat track accompanied by a clapping beat in the background. Cara’s smooth vocals shine on this track, especially when she showcases her higher register during the choruses. “Seventeen” is catchy and sets high expectations for the rest of the album.

For the most part, Cara meets these expectations. As with most young artists, there is a sense that, as the artist grows older, she will develop a more mature sound. Though this surely will be the case with Cara, her unique music is already fairly sophisticated. “Here,” the second track on “Know-It-All” first premiered as a single in April and appeared on “Four Pink Walls” as well. The song is a standout, likely why it was included again on this album. It currently sits at  No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and rightly so. The song, which Cara revealed is based off of her own experience at a party, details the discomfort she felt being surrounded by “…the girl / who’s always gossipin’ about her friends / …the boy who’s throwin’ up.” “Here” impresses on both the lyrical and emotional fronts, accurately depicting an uncomfortable experience through precise lyrics. The song is a shoutout to anyone who has felt like an outsider in any type of situation, recognizing and justifying their discomfort.

“Wild Things” is another standout on the album and was released as a single on Oct. 27. The song alternates between a minimalist sound with just piano, vocals and drums and a powerful chorus that has funky, layered vocals. With lyrics like “I lose my balance on these eggshells,” it’s easy to forget how young Cara is. The song is full of a subtle yet infectious energy.

Cara displays a different side of her voice on simpler tracks like “Stone” and “Stars.” These two tracks aren’t grand or particularly energetic, but they showcase Cara’s soft, sweet tone. “Stone” almost exclusively utilizes guitar and vocals, putting more focus on Cara’s voice. “Stars” is a moving piano ballad for a long-lost lover. “Lay in my arms, why don’t you? / It’s been way too long / …I need to / Let down my guard and give you my scars,” Cara sings. These two tracks are a much appreciated change of pace and emphasize Cara’s musical flexibility.

The most interesting track on the album has to be “Overdose,” in which Cara experiments with syncopated rhythms and clever rhyming, both of which work in her favor on this album highlight.

Cara’s voice can be described as a fuller, more forceful version of singer-songwriter Norah Jones’. In her debut album, she shows off her vocal range and stylistic versatility. She’s able to sing sweetly and soulfully in ballads, but also channel energy and passion into pop hits. Cara’s style is unconventional — she doesn’t fit into the typical pop mold. Hopefully, as her career progresses, she’ll remain a unique, original voice in the pop music landscape.


Summary

Demonstrating ability beyond her young years, Alessia Cara shows versatility and potential on her debut album, "Know-It-All."

4 stars
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