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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Here," the anti-party party song

Thank you, Alessia Cara, for providing a perspective to which I can so easily relate.

I love going to Cal and being in Berkeley. There’s never a dull moment here. Sproul Plaza seems to always be lively and have some sort of music. The area right off campus is bustling too, with a plethora of… intriguing personalities an incredible food scene for a college city.

I particularly love being on Southside, so close to the heart of campus (literally less than a block from Sproul) while also being within walking distance of too many stores and restaurants to remember. I don’t need a car because of where I live, and thank goodness, because parking is ridiculously expensive.

However, there is one quite audible downside to where I’m living this year: I’m right on top of a popular bar, and they blast music from 10-2 (frequently with a live DJ) six nights a week. For someone trying to concentrate on coursework at the world’s top public university, that can sometimes be an issue. Honestly, though, the bigger issue is more internal — hearing the bar’s patrons and music gets me in a weird headspace, because it makes me think about some of my party experiences (don’t worry, nothing explicit or triggering below).

You see, I’m a pretty extroverted guy. My family and friends will tell you how easy it is for me to talk (way too much) to anyone. When I’m in a mass social setting like a party, though, I kind of shut down. I never feel like I belong, because I don’t tend to be part of big friend circles. More than that, I’m not a drinker (more than anything, I haven’t acquired the taste, and I don’t want to drink to get drunk) or a smoker (simply put, asthma), so I’m super sober when very few others, if any, are. Parties should be a time to relax, but when I’m at one, I’m always paranoid and feeling like I don’t belong.

Considering everything I’ve said thus far in this post, you’ll understand why I can so strongly relate with Alessia Cara’s 2015 debut single “Here.” Then-19-year-old Cara’s unflinchingly true portrayal of her experience at a basement party was a refreshingly different narrative in the pop world, and I can’t imagine her perspective not playing a role in how quickly “Here” became an online and chart sensation.

“Here” is grounded in a sample of “Ike’s Rap II,” a section of a track from Isaac Hayes off his 1971 album Block Moses. “Ike’s Rap II” was already an iconic trip hop sample through its use by Portishead on “Glory Box” (1994) and Tricky from Massive Attack on “Hell Is Round the Corner” (1995). Hayes is heard saying "I guess right now you've got the last laugh" in the middle of the intro, highlighting the first raw sample. The section of "Ike's rap" used beyond the intro features a different vocal line: "I apologize." When this snippet pops up in back of Cara's vocals, it feels like Hayes' voice is that of her friend who drove her to the party. While most people in that basement "don't even care about [her] well-being," I can't imagine that the person who brought her to the party doesn't.

The Hayes sample is beefed up by various layers, including some drum machine percussion, extra bass and piano, a guitar that follows the bass line, some low brass hits, and even a glockenspiel at the very end of the track. Whereas the sample on its own can feel a bit light, the additions by producers Pop & Oak and Sebastian Kole give “Here” quite a bit of weight. Each beat feels more impactful, as if someone is planting their foot as they continue stumbling through the basement scene. The weight factor gets turned up to 11, if not to 15, when the guitar kicks in at the chorus. The guitar line is so simple — just a mimicking of the bass — and it doesn't dominate the mix, but the notes' strong attack and length make the line stick out. The guitar also combines with the bass layers and the low piano line to create what I can only describe as a reinforce concrete block of low-end warmth and goodness.

Perfect for the theme of the song, Cara’s lyrics and vocal style are both quite conversational and free-flowing. She describes on the song’s Genius lyric sheet how the the lyric-writing process began with a rant to Sebastian Kole about a party she attended the night before. The rant seems to be reflected in the song's lyrical structure; the verses each seem to be a continuous, naturally flowing monologue. Even with a rhyming scheme, it all seems so casual that I could easily imagine Cara speaking them verbatim to a friend of hers at that party. I think the narrowness of her vocal range (just a minor sixth, not even an octave) also contributes to the conversational feeling. By staying in a narrow, comfortable band of her vocal range, the performance sounds a lot more easygoing, even effortless — though I know it takes a very skilled singer to pull off such an act.

When I first heard it as a high school freshman, I couldn't quite relate to "Here," but I loved the song for what it was musically. Now that I'm nearly six and a half years older, and having experienced a lot more of life in that time, I really value the perspective Alessia Cara shared, because I feel similarly in those situations and hadn't really heard anyone talking or singing about that side of things. In a world where partying is so often glorified in the media, it's nice to hear a more somber — and sober — viewpoint for a change.


Short postscript: Cara included a second version of "Here," the "2:00 AM Version," on the deluxe edition of her debut album Know-It-All. It's a cool take on the track, stripped down to just her voice and a piano, and features a different chord progression and a more expressive vocal performance as she plays with timing and extends the song's range a bit. I stuck with the original version for my playlist because it's the version to which I much more strongly relate, but I wanted to give the 2:00 AM Version a little attention too.


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