Your early 20s can be a uniquely reflective time; there’s so much ahead, and yet for many, it’s the first chance to look back on your life with any real perspective. You start to get a feel for your place in the scheme of things and a sense of how you’ve changed, or haven’t, as the case may be–all among the thoughts that underpin indie-pop singer/songwriter Carmen Canedo’s second full-length album, Know It All (Oof Records). The record follows her 2018 debut, Wheels Are Turning, plus a stint touring with Dream Wave and a break from writing music for the better part of a year as she dealt with PTSD related to performing. Her return is a quiet triumph, full of engrossing melodies set in deep, intimate memoryscapes.
Wheels Are Turning showed more direct bossa nova influence, but you can still hear Canedo’s jazz background in her rich use of harmony. She’s also backed by a growing list of collaborators–returning names like Robin Taylor Zander, Todd Tidwell, and Kelton Young, as well as newcomers like her younger sister Anabel, who sings harmonies on “At All.” That makes for deeper arrangements and vibes, like the electric guitar and rim-tapping of “Nothing Less Nothing More” or the synth-lined, rain stick dream sequence “Ocean I Swam.”
But it starts with Canedo on her own in a flashback. On the opener, “Morrow,” she reminisces about a starry night climbing the roof of her Smith College residence hall. It’s an understated coming-of-age story told only in thoughtful fingerpicking and doubled vocals, as she looks back on that time of orientation to a new stage of life–and the names she’s held onto after the fact. As it goes on, Canedo picks up into a strum that hits like the rush of possibility that comes with straddling the line between carefree youth and grown-up agency. In the past, she’s written of the way childhood trauma can hurry the growing-up process, and that makes her reflection here feel all the more euphoric.
Often, though, change is more fleeting, frustrated, or even cyclical, as in “August,” where the passing of days and seasons finds Canedo meditating on how easy it can be to fall back into the old patterns of soured relationships. (She’s joined in gorgeous harmony vocals by Nashville singer-songwriter Lily Ophelia). Again, there’s a shift in the arrangement, from strumming to intricate circles of picking, ending in the middle of a loop. “How Can I Know You” is situated in a different kind of circle, between the warmth and chill of memories from a lost intimacy.
Like all of Canedo’s best narrative work, it’s built on tender vignettes–images from daily life with deep, emotional resonance, like the cold ground under her back as she watches the clouds, or hot tea shared from a kettle. But as she leafs through those lyrical polaroids, there’s a nagging sense of their fragility, and the ultimate futility of all memory. She sets up a striking visual in “Vectors,” where her name is written on the ground “by tiny hands with chalk in them,” destined to be washed away. By the chorus, she’s seemingly started to make peace with her impermanence: “No more legacy for the person that is me,” she sings. And later, “I am no greater than the air that I breathe.”
Knowledge is one thing, but knowing isn’t an emotional cure-all, and Know It All knows that. The ghostly, unsettled “Reflections on Glass” dials more into existential anxiety around the fleeting nature of life and the way that can tie into the struggle for self-love. But one of the album’s most compelling threads is in the way Candeo highlights the complexity of the seemingly insignificant–a reflection in the back of a silver spoon, for example–turning the air that she breathes into something bittersweet and utterly bewitching.