By Drew DeBerry
Laufey is an artist I’ve been keeping tabs on since late 2021, when her fantastic collaboration with the Philharmonic Orchestra, “Let You Break My Heart Again” went viral and made its rounds on TikTok. I was instantly captivated by Laufey’s buttery smooth vocals, her smitten lyrics and the swelling orchestral percussion. It is one of those songs that you can’t listen to without feeling a little bit like a hopeless romantic. I viewed it as a breath of fresh air in the sea of female songwriters who mostly stick to the acoustic guitar as far as instrumentation goes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). While I enjoyed her debut quite a bit, it felt a tad overstuffed and some of the tracks felt a little too similar. That being said, the string of singles that led up to this albums release did a fantastic job getting me excited for her sophomore album.
“From the Start” has become a viral hit on social media in the past few weeks and it is not hard to see why. The airy guitars and unconventional percussion hearken back to 60’s bossa nova, while the lyrics speak of unreciprocated love (we’ve all been there). “California and Me” also stood out to me with its captivating piano intro. The ebb and flow of the orchestral accompaniment adds a lot of texture and life to the song. Sufficed to say, I was excited for this album and quite frankly, it did not disappoint.
What I love about Laufey is that while she wears her jazz and bossa nova influences on her sleeve, she still adds enough of her on ‘Laufey’ touch to make a genre mainly associated with the days of yesteryear feel fresh and engaging. In interviews she cites influences such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday and Chet Baker and you can hear it alot on this album. The album opener “Dreamer”, with its layered vocal harmonies and swing feel, would be right at home with the girl group music of the 50s, like the Chordettes or the Fleetwoods. Dreamer also has a really catchy chorus that has been an earworm for me in the past few weeks.
The next couple of tracks all have a more acoustic feel, with a few orchestral flourishes to give the songs a little bit more shape. “Second Best” is one of the most universal songs on the album as Laufey sings about being someone’s second best while they are your everything. This is an experience that I think anybody who has been in love has experienced at least once and I think this level of universal relatability is part of why Laufey has been resonating with so many people lately. “Haunted” and “Must Be Love” are probably my two least favorites on the album (although Must Be Love is growing on me). They both just felt like standard acoustic guitar ballads to me and while they are both pretty songs and are enjoyable enough, they’re both missing that special something for me that permeates most of this album.
“While You Were Sleeping” reminds me of Saviour Complex by Phoebe Bridgers in how the instrumentation sounds. I know that’s kind of a weird comparison but both of those songs have this very comfy and more solemn vibe to them that I really appreciate.I feel like this album really shifts into gear with the song “Lovesick”. This is the point in the album where I feel like the song structure and the lyrics become more interesting. I love the contrast between the quiet of the verses and the euphoria of the chorus, it just really works for me.
After “California and Me”, we get treated to a beautiful interlude that moves us to the second half of the album. Easily the high point of the album for me is the song “Promise” which has quickly become one of my favorite songs of the year. In an album full of excellent vocal performances, I think this one stands a cut above the rest because you can really hear the hurt and grit in her voice and it makes the lyrics that much more impactful. The stripped down piano on the first verse and how it crescendos during the chorus with the strings is probably my favorite moment on the entire album.
“Misty” is the only cover on this album and it makes me wish that Laufey did covers more often. This cool jazz standard fits right at home on this album and gives us a more stripped back moment on an album full of grand orchestral compositions. This is followed by the track “Serendipidity” which is admittedly not one of my favorites. It’s a fine song but I feel like the niche of stripped back piano ballad is filled by many other better songs on the album (including the one I previously mentioned).
The best song on the album lyrically is without a doubt, “A Letter To My 13 Year Old Self”. On this song, Laufey writes a proverbial letter to her adolescent self telling her to not care so much what other people think, because you are special. This song feels very personal to Laufey but also feels like it is made for the countless women who listen to Laufey who have similar feelings about their adolescent selves. There is a twinge of heartache in her vocal delivery and in the lyrics while also feeling very wholesome and sentimental. It’s a great song and is the heart of the album in my opinion. The closing track is “Bewitched” which immediately grabs your attention with the intro that sounds straight out of an old school Disney movie (think Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella). The best way I can describe this song is rich. Laufey’s voice has an effervescent quality here that perfectly compliments the sweeping strings, the reserved woodwinds and the twinkling production. It makes for a very layered song that serves as a great closer to this great album.
I know I’ve showered this album with praise, but I do have a few gripes. This album feels a lot more fleshed out and realized than Laufey’s debut, but this album can still get kind of same-y at times, especially that beginning stretch of tracks. With the exception of a few tracks, pretty much every song is about heartbreak or falling in love, and I understand that that’s Laufey’s bread and butter, but I wish the lyrics had a bit more variety. I love “From the Start” but I think it’s in a really weird spot in the album. “Promise” is an emotional but reserved showstopper and “Misty” is this subdued jazz cover and an upbeat bossa nova song in between those two tracks felt like a very odd choice.
Overall, I think this album is excellent and it really builds on the sound that Laufey had been developing on her last album. Sure it has a few forgettable tracks, but the highlights are fantastic and leads to a listen that overall goes down smooth like pink lemonade. It’s very refreshing to have a jazz-ajacent artist breaking into the mainstream, especially when you consider that the last artist of this variety to break through in such a big way was probably Norah Jones. I highly recommend checking this album out if you haven’t already, especially if you’re looking for a good album to listen to in a cozy coffee shop while you study.