Romance and music: a duo as ubiquitous as peanut butter and jelly, usually delivered with just as much saccharine. The quintessential break-up album chock full of cutting remarks from a scorned lover gets a new lease of life from one of the latest and greatest scandipop artists, Charlotte dos Santos. Her debut EP Cleo, released earlier this year via the Portland-based label Fresh Selects, takes a refreshing angle on relationships with a focus on personal development, vulnerability and self-empowerment.
Santos explores these themes through her myriad vision of R&B, taking influence from just about every genres there is. The album opens with a typical Middle-English song prelude, setting a tone redolent of romance. Painted with warm hues and dreamy vocals, Santo’s Cleo welcomes us into a world of swaying soul-pop, tracing arcs of infatuation and love.
The first segment of the album is swept up in the promise of passion, the exploration of a fresh and enticingly intimate dynamic with a new lover. One of the most seductive tracks, Watching You, depicts this perfectly with its sensual sounds delicately seducing the listener both sensually and lyrically, with crooning lines such as , ‘the way you taste in the morning makes me shiver’.
In contrast, the track Good Sign takes more of a self-conscious approach, its production resonant of Amy Winehouse mixed with notes of a medieval banquet. It speaks to the early days of romance where two bashful, coy lovers collide.
During the interlude, بداية جديدة, (New Beginnings) Santos croons ethereally to a purifying melody preparing us for the latter half of the album. This part takes a far more rooted approach to love, exploring the moment when the rose coloured glasses finally slip and the inevitable disillusionment hits.
Possibly the richest track, and my personal favourite, Red Clay tells a tale of manipulation and embittered admiration. It is emblematic of Cleo’s essence: remaining true to yourself. Santos sings seductively about vapid, hollow people who search for their own meaning by scavenging from those around them. In an interview with Fader, she describes Red Clay as being “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”.
Cleo reaches its crescendo on the final track, It’s Over Bobby, with bossa nova vibes showing the strong influence of Santos’s Afro-Brazilian roots. Departing entirely from tropes of the break-up song, Santos gives us powerful, royal vocals centered on self-fulfillment, acceptance and growth. In this way she provides closure to the unique and eclectic album that is Cleo as well as the empowered, spiritual self-relationship that inspired it.