Through the late 2010s and early 2020s, there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of artists whose popularity was boosted by the algorithmic chaos of social media. Said artists are sometimes written off due to some perceived illegitimacy of internet-based fame.
There are certainly a few cases that prove themselves deserving of this scrutiny, but in the grand scheme of things, the internet has been and continues to be a veritable gold mine of artistic skill. Laufey Lín Jónsdottír, better known simply as Laufey, is one such example.
A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Laufey realizes a modern approach to classic jazz styles, taking cues from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Her newest album, “Bewitched,” paints an exquisite landscape of jazz and bossa nova stylings while cultivating a truly unique sound with her vocals and arranging.
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“Dreamer” introduces the album with barbershop quartet-style vocal harmonies in Laufey’s silky voice. It simplifies down to a solo voice for the verse, then gradually adds instruments to arrive at a jazz quintet instrumentation, later bringing the vocal harmonies back.
Although the song is fairly slow and soft, as is the norm for Laufey, it’s filled with a restrained energy, ever-present but never threatening to spill over. The dense arrangement and harmony are to blame for this energy, as are the stop-time sections in the chorus — the de facto zenith of the song’s build.
This subdued power can be heard in nearly every bar of this album, contributing in no small part to Laufey’s distinct sound. Much of this effect is owed to her unmistakable voice; it’s dark, warm and resonant, enormously rich without relying on loudness, and all with exquisite control.
It’s clear she’s not interested in high volumes or intensities, but her subtle verve keeps her music from being primarily characterized as delicate.
It can be heard even in the album’s mellowest points, albeit in smaller quantities. “Haunted,” for instance, adopts a bossa nova-inspired texture driven primarily by guitar and backed up by orchestral strings and soft, syncopated drums. Laufey’s prodigious cello can be heard in its intro.
The harmony of the guitar and swelling strings pair with poetic, emotional lyrics to betray an ardent romanticism beyond what the song’s volume might indicate. It strikes an effervescent balance between beauty and strength to stir the spirit in a satisfying style.
Romance is a major theme throughout the record. It’s expressed in a variety of contexts: from the regretful longing of “Second Best” to the heartfelt confession of “Must Be Love.” “Bewitched” is certainly an album for the lovers.
“While You Were Sleeping” and “Lovesick” both somewhat leave the jazz influence behind, intoning an acoustic indie sound akin to that of Phoebe Bridgers or Lizzy McAlpine. The former finds itself within Laufey’s understated idiom, but “Lovesick” pushes beyond it.
It opens expectedly enough, with muted guitar chords and vocals, but when the chorus comes in, it’s relatively thunderous. Piano, drums, guitar, backing vocals and multiple sections of strings set the stage while the lead vocal soars above, not quite pushing into the belting range, but inching closer to it than any other point of the album.
She shows off her jazz chops on “Misty,” adding her name to the long list of renditions of the standard. Her version doesn’t break the mold by any means, but her style shines through, particularly in the vocal’s effortless dancing over the piano trio backing.
The album ends on its title track. It brings the strings to the forefront, making them much busier and more melodic, at times competing with the vocals in volume.
Winds and mallet instruments punctuate the highs, evoking the full orchestra accompaniment common amongst jazz singers in the 20th century. It’s an apt finale, flexing Laufey’s detail-oriented arranging and virtuosic voice.
“Bewitched” is wonderful. It envelops the listener in a warm and comfortable soundscape, exquisitely mixing conventions of modern and age-old music.
Although it mostly sticks to Laufey’s particular vernacular, it has a beautiful arc from beginning to end, making it a piece that could be kept on loop for hours.