Album Review: Alessia Cara - ‘In The Meantime’

Written alone in her apartment in Canada, Alessia Cara’s pandemic project takes a deep dive into her mental state throughout 2020, exploring a host of emotions and experiences in what can only be considered her best and most personal album to date. The Mic’s Mia Versluys explores the strengths and vulnerabilities of ‘In The Meantime’.

In The Meantime serves as Alessia Cara’s return to the music industry, following a three year hiatus after her moderately successful project The Pains of Growing (2018). In this LP there is a marked maturity compared to the adolescent nature of The Pains of Growing, while still maintaining Cara’s usual exciting production and relatable themes. Considering that the project was written during the global pandemic, an emotionally turbulent period of time, the album is multifaceted in terms of its themes, exploring, mental health, relationships, breakups and more, all conveyed through highly intimate and introspective lyrics. Like all her projects, Cara uses her song writing as “a way to process” her experiences and emotions, stating on the Zach Sang show how she is “not really good with words otherwise”.

Cara prepares her listeners for this array of emotion and experience in her second song, Box In The Ocean, which works to set out some of the many themes in the project. The disjointed nature of the song serves the album well in this respect, spanning from themes of career anxiety to love, all with little connection in between, reflecting Cara’s state of mind while writing this album. In discussion with Billboard, Cara reflects on the disorder: “I just kind of threw everything in there. I wanted to have one song that tackles all of the mess of thoughts that I was feeling, and then as the album progresses, I pick each apart individually.” Box In The Ocean’s production does not disappoint, opening with an upbeat trumpet intro, and featuring a muted electric guitar and notable drum beat throughout, all of which follow a simple three chord structure. Consequently, the upbeat production lies in stark contrast with Cara’s melancholy and introspective lyrics. This production can be considered characteristic of many songs throughout the album, creating for a generally cohesive listening experience while still maintaining elements of stylistic experimentation, with each song trying something slightly different from the previous.

Cara considers “Duality” a key feature of the album, and upon listening, this can certainly be considered true. The breezy Bluebird details acceptance and well-wishing’s to a previous lover, over a relaxed acoustic production that is refreshing and highly complementary to her vocals. This lies in contrast to the following track Lie To Me, not only in terms of production, with its heavy drum, breakbeat bass and piano influence, but also in terms of its themes, portraying this lover in a much more negative light, detailing Cara’s experience with a manipulative and dishonest partner, and the emotional collateral that occurred as a result. Cara - “When I was listening to the whole track list, I realised there was two sort of themes, there's a running thread and two ends of that spectrum, there’s the darkness and the hard parts of my life in the last year and then there's the breakthroughs and the growth and the acceptance and the healing that came from that” [Zach Sang Show]

"(Cara's) lyrics prove to be deeply personal and raw"

These elements of hardship are well represented by tracks, Sweet Dream and Voice In My Head, which see’s Cara delve into issues more central to herself. Sweet Dream provides listeners with an insight into Cara’s battle with Insomnia and the relief that sleep provides her from her problems. In many ways Voice in My Head runs parallel to Sweet Dream, detailing the thoughts and problems that Cara is so desperately trying to quiet. The song explores Cara’s struggle to escape and control her internal voice, as she is overwhelmed with thoughts relating to insecurity, anxiety, and depression. This is a problem that many of Cara’s listeners may relate to, as they too are forced to navigate their own anxieties and insecurities as the distractions of life are dulled in the isolation of the pandemic.

Overpowering and introspective thoughts are also a key theme of track 12, Best Days, which can certainly be considered a standout of the album. Sonically dissimilar to previous songs in the album, Best Days, sees Cara tackling her challenging thoughts through the medium of a piano ballad, acting as a notable and pleasant change of pace to the project. The song details Cara’s anxieties about the future as she struggles to grapple with its uncertainty, she questions “what if my best days are the day’s I’ve left behind”. This lyric was initially intended for the bridge of another song; however, Cara was advised by producer Jon Levine to repurpose it into its own track, and thankfully she did because the song certainly does not disappoint. It would be nice to hear Cara over more stripped back productions in the future.

Find My Boy is the only track that appears to run counter to the rest of the project. Cara wonders what her future lover is doing, and she questions why “I can’t seem to find my boy”. This idolisation and need for a relationship feels a bit immature and contradicts previous inferences of finding strength in being single, lightly suggested in songs like Bluebird, Lie To Me and Somebody Else. Its meaning aside however, the song proves the most experimental with production and instrumentation, with its use of Congas in conjunction with modern elements of production, creating an exciting and unique listening experience. However, with the song lacking the introspective and personal lyrics that are so central and special to the album, the track may have been better suited as a B-Side release.

In the Meantime, shows a new side to Alessia Cara, providing fans with a highly intimate look into her array of emotions and experiences as she attempts to navigate the turbulence of 2020. Her lyrics prove to be deeply personal and raw, detailing experiences that are likely to be relatable to anyone who is human, and she sings this over production that successfully strikes a balance between being experimental while maintaining cohesion throughout the album. Alessia Cara fans and new listeners alike are sure to enjoy this album, and its projected success should quell those anxieties Cara herself has for the future.

Written by: Mia Versluys

Edited by: Elliot Fox

Billboard quote -

Zach Sang Show - 'Alessia Cara Talks Sweet Dream, Shapeshifter & Gives Zach Free Therapy'

In article images courtesy of Alessia Cara via Facebook. Video courtesy of Alessia Cara via YouTube.