Written By: Emma Robins
Charlotte Dos Santos is nothing if not relentlessly creative. Her album, Cleo, embraces emotional and musical versatility, as it communicates a broad spectrum of romance, tragedy, sensuality, and joy, without sacrificing a foundation of soulful R&B pop. Though her unique sound remains consistent, the album also showcases her imaginative innovation of the genre. The first track, “Summer is Icumen In,” is sung entirely in Middle English, and somehow manages to remain stunningly evocative. Similarly, the interlude “ بداية جديدة (New Beginnings)” consists of Dos Santos’ wordless vocals, simultaneously mournful and joyous.
Dos Santos is immensely talented, and revitalizes classically romantic lyrics with her effortless vocal stylings and soaring melodies. Her harmonies are seamless, as evidenced in the track “Cleo,” in which she sings to a young woman stuck in a dehumanizing position: “Cleo, don’t you stay, go on and chase your dreams.” Cleo— the first album from the Norwegian artist– is half love songs, half feminist empowerment: “Watching You” communicates sensuality (“the way you taste in the morning makes me shiver”), while “Red Clay” was written in response to “frustration over vapid people who lack identity and need others to give them a purpose. It is about someone who took advantage of my creativity and love and needed me to help them take form, shape them, but in the end, to me, the person was nothing but mud which eventually will crumble or dissolve” (quoted from Dos Santos’ interview with Fader).
Cleo’s final track, “It’s Over, Bobby” is heavily influenced by Brazilian bossa nova, likely a result of Dos Santos’ own Afro-Brazilian roots. It communicates self-fulfillment rare in ordinary break-up songs (“Lovin you was hard to do/ I would never do it over”). But then again, Charlotte Dos Santos is not an ordinary artist. Her impeccable vocals, improvisational style, soaring melodies, and captivating message make Cleo a more than worthwhile listen.