by Oscar Ross, Music Editor
“Hello hello, are you alright?” croons Charlotte Dos Santos in her opening track, welcoming her listener into the shimmering soundscape of her new album Morfo.
Born and raised in Norway to a Brazilian father and Norwegian mother, Charlotte Dos Santos represents some of the most interesting Neo-soul and jazz of recent years. Her debut album Cleo, released back in 2017 was, and remains, a sample-filled, warbling delight. Characterised by her stunning vocals, adventurous jazz harmonies and skilful lyricism, Dos Santos has returned with a second album, stepping into a more refined neo-soul sound, without losing her signature touch.
While Cleo was a marriage of hip-hop and soul sounds reminiscent of 90s singers such as Erykah Badu, in both song writing and production style, Morfo indicates a shift in Dos Santos’ sound. The name of the album itself is part of this idea of change, being named after the Amazonian Morfo butterflies featured surrounding the Norwegian singer on the album cover.
Morpho depicts a metamorphosis imagined by Dos Santos, with the standout track ‘Angel in Disguise’ featuring the singer expressing her imperfections, going on to sing hopefully about her future self overcoming them. This metamorphosis is also evident in the overall sound of the album, with bubbling synths and 808s accompanying Los Santos’ centralised vocals, with regular orchestral layers weaving in and out of mesmerising tracks.
The album ranges from fable-like songs such as ‘The Player and The Fool’, narrating the trickery of ‘the fool’ thinking they were the only one for ‘the player’, and deeply personal reflections such as ‘Filha Do Sol’ and ‘Crooked house’. ‘The Player and The Fool’ creates an image of a glittered gardenscape around Dos Santos’ vocals in the verses, with swirling strings and synths then coming into focus with the groovy, drum-driven chorus warning the listener “the laugh is on you/you thought you had it /no doubt about it”
On the other end of the album’s spectrum of song styles, ‘Filha Do Sol’ sees Dos Santos’ deep dive into her Brazilian heritage. Featuring classic Brazilian sounds such as smoothly plucked guitar, flute and tan-tan drums, Dos Santos also uses this song to speak about the resilience and empowerment of people of colour, with the chorus “O Acoite Bateu” translating to “The Whip Is Beating”. The slow, swung feel of the song breaks out into an explosion of percussion, calling out from the distance for the last minute of the song providing powerful light and dark to the intensely personal song.
For me, the most interesting song on the album was ‘Crooked House’. This quirky, introspective track depicts Dos Santos trapped in her own head, tired and feeling like she’s ‘going coo-coo, I’m losing my screws’. A mix of orchestral and synth inflections surround the classic neo-soul set-up of piano, bass and swinging drums alongside shining chimes and backing vocals, many of which are distorted and pitch-shifted to create an otherworldly, morphing sound.
Overall this album shows a significant shift in Dos Santos’ sound. While the album showcases her fantastic song writing and new production, a part of me misses the Cleo days of weird, grainy, sample-driven soul tunes, which feel like they have been left behind on this record. That being said, Charlotte Dos Santos has no need to look backwards, with Morfo indicating a new depth and range to her music that in this metamorphic second album.
Listen to Charlotte Dos Santos’ new album Morfo here: