Alessia Cara’s story is the one every musically inclined teenager wishes was their own. She started putting up acoustic covers of her favorite artists (including Amy Winehouse, Drake, and the Neighbourhood) at the age of 13. By 18, she was being flown out to New York by a production company, and eventually, famed hip hop and R&B label Def Jam had recruited her for their roster.
After announcing that both an EP and her full length debut would be released before the end of 2015, she dropped her first single, “Here.” This was the song that caught my attention. As impressive as her covers are, there’s quite a difference between someone with a great voice, and someone who can be a captivating solo artist; “Here” asserted that she was the latter. Cara takes an Isaac Hayes sample (one that has also been used by trip-hop greats Tricky and Portishead) and crafts it into a ballad over which her smooth vocal riffs can soar. But to me, the most interesting part of this track was neither the production, nor her pristine voice, but rather, the lyrics. Cara strays far from the average top 40 material by writing a song about how introverted she is. The setting of the track is a party, and one where she doesn’t want to be. In today’s musical world, where huge choruses and drug innuendos reign supreme on the iTunes charts, songs like “Here” are few and far between, to say the least.
So, based off the strength of this single alone, my expectations for Four Pink Walls were high. I hoped that “Here” was not a fluke. With this EP, Alessia Cara has not totally dashed my hopes, but she has given me reason to doubt her.
Just as Cara’s lyrics were one of the points I loved most in “Here,” amongst more than half of the tracks on Four Pink Walls, they are one of the aspects preventing me from diving head-first into this project. The exceptions are, of course, “Here,” and the title track, which I’ll return to later. Besides those, the lyrics here a bit of a generic teenager-y mess. The most blatant example of this is “I’m Yours.” In the chorus, she sings, “Cause I’ve had my heart/broken before/And I promised I would never let me hurt anyone/But I tore down my walls…” and from there, I’m sure you can see where it’s going. Essentially, it’s just your average “I’ve never met anyone like you before!” story. Many of the lyrics take this same direction. Open the diary of any 15 year old girl and you’ll find something similar.
Unfortunately, there are many other points on this EP that feel just as contrived. The Bonnie and Clyde references on “Outlaws,” the acoustic guitar strumming and dumbed down EDM chorus of “I’m Yours,” and song endings where the beat drops out just before she sings the title of the song are among them. It’s during these moments that I wonder whether or not Cara has succumbed to the sugar coated, radio friendly pitfalls of many of her influences (I’m looking at you, the Neighbourhood.)
Yet, there are still moments where this EP meets, and exceeds, my expectations. “Here” is contained in the track listing, but my personal favorite song is the title track, “Four Pink Walls.” She half raps, half sings, over a classic hip hop groove, and does it with feeling. Even the lyrics are improved; she uses the walls of her bedroom as a metaphor for the limits she put on herself as a musician. Once she ventured outside of these walls, she became more confident, and in turn, more successful. The chorus is sung fantastically, and her runs are gorgeous. Another one of the better moments comes from the first track, “Seventeen.” To say it’s radio ready would be an understatement, but the chorus is undeniably catchy, and the production is minimal but effective.
Despite both good and bad on this EP, I don’t think five songs is enough to judge an artist by. Of course, I can (and will, in just a second) judge this project on its own, but Cara hasn’t quite put out enough material to be able to tell the direction she is going to take as an artist. Although I’m a little less excited than I was before Four Pink Walls, I can say now with certainty that “Here” was not just a fluke, and Alessia Cara certainly has talent and a voice; she just needs to refine them.
Written by Preston Fulks