Among the many exceptional voices 2015 has introduced us to, Alessia Cara’s ranks pretty high on that list. We’re not playing favourites, but the 19-year old Canadian vocalist hasn’t given us much of a choice, as she’s owned the year after her inaugural single ‘Here’ impetuously exploded and continues to run laps around radio internationally. She has leaped from being the jewel in your YouTube subscription feed to not only being a household name, but a bona-fide pop powerhouse, and with her debut album Know-It-All, Alessia has validated her own artistry once again. Not only is Alessia Cara responsible for one of the most compelling singles of the year, she’s managed to release one of the most dynamic pop albums 2015 has seen, too.
To anybody keeping tabs on Alessia’s musical journey, they’ll notice that the first five-songs heard on Know-It-All are the same five songs that are found on her Four Pink Walls EP she released just a few months ago. The EP embodies a kind of project in itself, one where all the songs apart of the project walk along the same distinct thematic lines, and feature their own sonic cohesion. In fact, the EP’s title is a callback to Alessia’s most distinct surroundings during her formative teenage years. The track ‘Four Pink Walls’ manifests this effectively, as Alessia utilizes the leverage of retrospect to properly evaluate her ever-changing life, at first indicting her insular environment for holding her back, before realizing that same environment was responsible for conceiving her success.
Know-It-All does not keep any undeviating, successive narrative—instead, it grows as Alessia does. The first five songs act as odes to rebellion and innocence, with tracks like ‘Seventeen’ chronicling her neglecting of her parents’ sound advice only to realize they were right all along, and ‘Outlaws’ being a more imaginative spin on her ideal love interest. It’s all shrouded in a fog of pixy dust and youthful hues until the album progresses and sheds the weight of it’s hefty and massive pop sonics, and sees Alessia stun and astound the listener as the records start to not only become more emotional and raw, but reflect the same level intimacy that was established back when it was just her, a webcam, and words that weren’t hers.
This time, though, Alessia flexes an unfamiliar muscle in her ability to put forth both profound and contemporary ballads. ‘Stone’ sees legendary producer and channel ORANGE accomplice Malay facilitate a stripped down soundscape, featuring a minimalistic strumming chord guitar that allows Alessia to fill in the rest with her dynamic melodies. All of a sudden the jovial and adolescent stories about running away with love interests and being annoyed and bothered by love seem distant, and Alessia is now elegantly wording her appreciation for companionship and the strength of affection, emulating the best of Ed Sheeran or Adele’s writing cues. ‘Stars’ features a similar vibe trading the guitar strings for a delicate piano progression standing as the backbone of the track. It’s a chill-inducing performance that seems nothing less than genuine and true to her story, while still standing as one of the most relatable sentiments on the record. These two songs in particular showcase Alessia Cara’s range as a musician more than any other, which is why they’re the one’s that’ll catch you off-guard the most on this record, but they’ll also end up being your earphone-favourites.
The first song on this record, the aforementioned ‘Seventeen’, is pushed thematically by the concept of Alessia being given advice, and by the end of the record, her outlook has matured and cultivated in a way where she finds herself giving the advice. The final track on the standard edition of the album is the powerful ‘Scars To Your Beautiful’, a poetic and noble track that touches on the many different angles of body image and self-worth, delving into everything from self-esteem to eating disorders. It’s easily the most jarring track on the album, as it’s the only one that sees her attempt to make a social commentary, and speak on a matter bigger than herself and her own experience, yet it’s one she is the perfect spokesperson for. Alessia handles this duty capably, and even though the song itself isn’t necessarily one you’ll go back to often, but it’s one you will appreciate nonetheless in the grand scope of the album.
The most impressive aspect of Know-It-All from a macro lens is that it’s a meticulous and manicured vision executed herself. Sure, you may be able to identify the references and inspirations behind her various writing prompts, melodies, and production cues, but ultimately, nothing on the record sounds compromised or the least bit facetious. It’s romantic, aspirational, and sometimes a bit formulaic, but it’s balanced with enough transparent and moving moments to keep in the contention for one of the strongest pop projects we’ve heard in a minute.