Alessia Cara, “The Pains of Growing” (Def Jam)
Artfully awkward sincerity defined Canadian singer/songwriter Cara on her 2015 debut album, “Know-It-All.” In one of its hits, “Here,” she sang about feeling antisocial and alienated at a loud party. In “Scars to Your Beautiful,” she decried superficial ideas of beauty. She went on to collaborate with rapper Logic on the anti-suicide song “1-800-273-8255” and to win best new artist at the 2018 Grammys.
Cara’s second album doubles down on both the sincerity — she wrote all the lyrics — and the awkwardness. The 22-year-old is a singer with an agile voice but still figuring herself out. In her new songs, she struggles with a breakup, with loneliness, with worry and depression and with a general sense of futility.
Her consolation is that “At least I say what I mean,” as she sings on “Girl Next Door,” which is the album’s mission statement: shrugging off glamour to be a “plain Jane,” proclaiming modesty and insecurity yet insisting that she’ll “do what I dream.” And she’s eager to offer empathy and encouragement, knowing it will take time to recover.
That’s what she does in the album’s standout song, “Not Today,” which reconstructs an old-fashioned R&B shuffle as Cara envisions some future moment when she has finally learned “misery management.” Humor and confidence balance the moping.
On “7 Days,” Cara looks beyond her own troubles, complaining to God about a deceptive, superficial society where reality gets flattering filters and “the antisocial media perpetuates the mess.” As a corrective, Cara offers up her own candid gawkiness in tidily constructed pop, and even her near-misses are endearing.
JON Pareles, New York Times
Tyler, the Creator, “Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Grinch’ ” (Columbia)
Tyler Okonma quickly lost interest in offending people, citing a desire to make “weird hippie music for people to get high to” in 2011. Since then, he’s made three more full-lengths of increasing musical complexity, inspired by the jazz chords of his musical hero Pharrell Williams. But his work for “The Grinch” movie is the first time he’s actually courted the mainstream, shoehorning his deadpan rapping into the classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and appending this 10-minute stopgap to the official soundtrack, the palette of which can be summed up as Neptunes-remixed-Stevie Wonder.
Only two of the six tracks contain real words: “Lights On,” a PG-rated Christmas carol that borrows Ween’s helium, and “Big Bag,” a holiday-friendly rap about seeking paper that matches his green skin. If only he had the charm to match his ambitions, he might get some.
dan weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer
• XXXTentacion, “Skins”
• Gucci Mane, “Evil Genius”
• Brett Young, “Ticket to L.A.”
• Ice Cube, “Everythang’s Corrupt”
• Van Morrison, “The Prophet Speaks”