At 19 years old, Alessia Cara has become a heroine for awkward outsiders. On her breakout single, “Here,” the Drake-co-signed Canadian singer-songwriter embraces being the antisocial type who would rather hug the walls than follow typical teenage rules. That same contrarian spirit powers Know-It-All, a debut album featuring a strong sense of adolescent idealism and a spoonful of smart cynicism.
The album’s fragile acoustic moments (the fireside ballad “Stone” is a highlight) help balance its many rebellious streaks. The anthemic “Wild Things” is a perfect example of the latter as Cara sings “I lose my balance on these eggshells you tell me to tread” in her grainy, trembling voice, full of soulful texture. There’s little risk in the production (breaking the rules has its limits) but tons of school-age effervescence — these are songs you can skip and hum to. “Seventeen” has Cara wishing to stay young forever, while “Outlaws” finds her daydreaming of a perfect partner in crime.
Those simple romantic explorations about desire, solitude and companionship are mature enough that describing them as “puppy love” is an oversimplification. When Cara sings “I’m mad at you for being so cute” on “I’m Yours,” it’s with biting self-awareness. Even on more generic-sounding ballads like the metaphorical “Overdose” (“I’m in over my head, over trust/Oh, I over trust,” she belts) and “Scars to Your Beautiful,” Cara’s steely vocals and thoughtful lyrics lure you in for a deeper look.
Rebellion in music isn’t what it used to be — the pop sphere is full of aspiring Rihannas. Cara, however, is writing her own script. Far from invincible, she’s openly vulnerable to life’s elements, upbeat or moody when she wants to be, with a youthful poise reminiscent of Lorde. As first impressions go, Know-It-All is a charismatic balance between dreams and reality that makes its author stick out in the most impressive way.
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