Carla Morrison Returns With the Personal Pop Reinvention of ‘El Renacimiento’

On her debut album, 2012’s “Dejenme Llorar,” Mexican singer-songwriter Carla Morrison explored love and loss in Mexican pop-folk tunes, derived largely from regional traditions. Her lyricism and flair rapidly struck an international chord and led to Grammy nominations for both that album and her follow-up, 2015’s “Amor Supremo,” which found Morrison expanding her songcraft to rock proportions. By 2017, with a Coachella performance, a string of sold-out US tour dates, and Latin Grammy wins to her name, Morrison had been catapulted to stardom — but it all imploded. She found herself rehashing acoustic reworks of her “Amor Supremo” songs, alienated from her music and nearly suicidal. After her 2017 tour, Morrison left her Mexican management. She sought a new life in Paris with her husband, and enrolled in a conservatory where she studied jazz singing. After a nearly five year gap between albums, she now makes her bold return with “El Renacimiento,” which translates to “The Rebirth.” The inspiration to record a follow-up came only after Morrison resolved to look deeper within herself, resulting in her most personal album to date. Simultaneously, the new material ventures beyond Morrison’s initial niche, as it finds her embracing contemporary pop songwriting and production for the first time.

“Hacia Dentro” is a fitting opener for Morrison’s most personal work, as it is about the initial look inward. Morrison acknowledges a willingness to confront her demons, and hints at a resulting illumination. Halfway through, a beat emerges, and Morrison’s intimate emotions continue to weave through, as her melodies resolve in a refrain that translates to “I looked inward again.” It’s the first instance of a vulnerability that permeates the album, and is the central focus of a few tracks. “Una Foto” finds Morrison at her most fragile, as she clings to emotional floodgates, protesting the delivery of a single picture message. Snippets with pitch-altered vocals are marks of Morrison’s new brazenly contemporary pop sound, while sweeping strings and a catchy chorus seem to mimic the saccharine inevitability of the titular photo’s effect. “Ansiedad,” simulates a panic attack in real time — as a pop song. Over a particularly modern arrangement of crisp snares and whirring, processed vocal bits, Morrison first succumbs to, but eventually overcomes her crippling anxiety. 

Interspersed with such tracks are a few idealistic love songs. On her single “Diamantes,” Morrison compares a lover’s kisses to diamonds. It’s not all too surprising that this track dates back to “Dejenme: Llorar.” On “Divino,” Morrison imagines how the likes of Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca would express their affections, and offers descriptors such as “the equation of my balance,” until climactic lines spur on giddy choral singalongs. On the especially catchy “Contigo,” written together with her husband, Morrison locks confidently into a groove and indulges florid Mariachi musical elements, as she celebrates an ultimate romantic end that justifies the means.

Numerous songs find Morrison taking charge in various ways. “Te Perdi” is about assuming some responsibility for a relationship’s dissolution, instead of merely calamitizing. The track’s understated Latin dance beat is appropriate for its leavening subject matter. “Soñar” is a soft, inspirational number with a mobilizing chorus about holding on to one’s dreams. On “No Me Llamas,” or “Don’t Call Me,” Morrisonon propels a hook through a sparse hip-hop beat, past some backwards music, as she stands firm and evades a quagmire. “Obra de Arte” is a standout track that celebrates feminine charm and power, as Morrison aims to fill a cultural gap for self-love. As if to overcompensate, she makes the song her boldest production, singing over trendy, glitchy beatwork, repete with a pitched-up vocal sample refrain. Finally, “Encontrarme,” an open-ended closer about finding oneself again, features the album’s most climactic chorus from Morrison. 

On “El Renacimiento,” Morrison simultaneously shows a new boldness and a new vulnerability. Having found herself on the verge of giving up, she took it upon herself to confront her demons, and in exposing her greatest fragility, gained unprecedented strength. As Morrison has discussed, mental health is still overwhelmingly a taboo topic in Latin America, which makes songs like “Ansiedad” so groundbreaking. Morrison’s voice strikes with all of its established emotive resonance, now updated and streamlined in digestible pop doses. Over the course of the album, Morrison surrenders, but more often asserts control. She stands her ground, exalts her attributes, and ultimately transcends, musically refined and emotionally reborn.

El Renacimiento” releases April 29 on Apple Music.