In 2014, Nielsen's Year-End Report found jazz to be the least popular music genre in the US. Now, Laufey is forging her own songbook of jazz classics and has finally cracked the code on how to adapt it for the 21st-century listener. "So enchanting in every way..." the Icelandic-born singer described herself perfectly in the opening line of "Everything I Know About Love," the title track of her mesmerizing debut album. It's been a year since then, and Laufey has reached entirely new audiences, alongside her new-age jazz.
With her sensuous and passionate voice drawing similarities to jazz marvels like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, Laufey's extraordinary vocal prowess harkens back to the golden age of the genre. It's simply sweet, timeless, and evokes a sense of nostalgia for an era our generation never experienced, akin to the 1960s Americana within Lana Del Rey's Born To Die.
The lyrics of Bewitched are often deeply introspective and optimistic, weaving tales of a hopeless romantic. They explore traditional jazz themes like love, desire, and self-discovery. Laufey's relatable perspective as a 24-year-old woman, a rarity in today's jazz scene, allows listeners to connect more easily with the rich storytelling tradition of this often underappreciated genre.
She seamlessly melds jazz with contemporary and modern elements, such as pop and indie, offering a fresh perspective on the classic sound. This fusion has allowed both mature jazz enthusiasts and younger audiences to dive into Laufey's catalog together. Her jazz-pop stylings led to the viral success of the albums lead single, "From The Start," accumulating over 100 million streams on Spotify, making it her most-streamed song to date.
While her debut album, Everything I Know About Love, provided the perfect soundtrack for any breakup (mine and friends included) and offered a more realistic perspective on love, Bewitched explores the pure, innocent magic of being young and unapologetically in love. Once more, Laufey delivers another perfect soundtrack for the current point of my life.
The opening track, "Dreamer," showcases vocal harmonies reminiscent of a barbershop quartet in Laufey's silky tone. While the track gradually incorporates more jazz instrumentation, it maintains a sense of restraint, never veering into excess. This subdued yet powerful quality is present throughout the entire album, and it harmonizes perfectly with Laufey's rich voice.
In "Lovesick," a hard-hitting, haunting, string-driven chorus captures that magical moment of catching a glimpse of the person you love. "When the golden rays touched your skin / and my hair got caught in the wind / the choir sang a melancholic hymn — God, I'm so lovesick / What have you done to me?" Not a single word needs to be exchanged with the person you love; sometimes, a simple gaze is all that's required to make your heart flutter.
The musical arrangements on this album are much more expansive and diverse compared to her significantly softer and more subdued debut. "California And Me" tells the story of a boy who abandons Laufey and their romance in Los Angeles, with support from the Philharmonic Orchestra adding a whimsical flair that elevates this track as a highlight of the album. This track leads into the album's interlude, "Nocturne," a rightfully 'bewitching' and emotional piano composition, despite the absence of vocals.
Bewitched isn't just an album celebrating the joys of being in love. In some tracks, Laufey reflects on her past, notably shedding light on the cultural struggles she faced growing up in Iceland as the daughter of an Asian immigrant.
Laufey pens advice to her struggling 13-year-old self in the stunning and relatable "Letter To My 13-Year-Old Self." For many people, this period of their lives marks a journey of self-discovery, often one of the most challenging times. It can be hard to maintain optimism while trying to find one's place in the world, but Laufey reassures her younger self with the best part of all: it will all be okay — "You'll grow up, grow tough, and charm them. You'll write your story, fall in love a little too. You'll do the things you thought you'd never do. I wish I could go back and give her a squeeze, myself at thirteen, and let her know that she's beautiful."
Towards the end of Bewitched, certain parts of the album start to feel a bit monotonous. Although piano-driven tracks such as "Misty" and "Serendipity" are heartwarming, straightforward love songs on their own, they can feel lost and unnecessary in the album's concluding section.
The finale of the album is found in its title track, "Bewitched." It begins with strings but gradually evolves into a full orchestral accompaniment, a hallmark of the 20th-century jazz greats who preceded her. It serves as a masterclass in Laufey's detail-oriented arrangement expertise and is a final reminder to any listener of her unforgettable voice.
While Bewitched may not represent a gigantic creative leap from her debut, Everything I Know About Love, Laufey doesn't fix what wasn't broken. It's clear that she has perfected and polished her creative formula of a perfectly crafted antiquated jazz-pop sound. The songwriting is superior, the hooks are catchier, and the musical arrangements and pacing feel more thoughtfully constructed. Laufey is no longer just a rising talent; she has proven herself to be an established star within a genre that was long considered a thing of the past.
Rating: 7.8/10 ★
Laufey will bring her "Bewitched Tour" to Chicago with a sold out show at Thalia Hall on Oct. 21st with supporting act Adam Melchor.
We've loved Laufey "From The Start!" Listen to Bewitched below!