On September 8th, Icelandic singer-songwriter-cellist Laufey (pronounced lay-vay) released her new album, Bewitched. In the first chorus, Laufey sings, “And no boy’s gonna be so smart / as to try and pierce my porcelain heart / No boy’s gonna kill the dreamer in me,” accurately summarizing the theme of the album: searching for love and staying true to oneself during the journey. Although she breaks this initial promise a couple times, the main concept stays central throughout the album.
This first song “Dreamer,” sets the tone of the album right off the bat. Its dreamy vibe stays true to the title and its overall message encompasses that she won’t lose herself in pursuit of a man. This serves as a prerequisite to what she’ll explore in this album.
In contrast, the next song, “Second Best,” focuses on her unrequited love for a man. In the process, she loses a part of herself by caring so much about what he thinks and by comparing herself to his previous girlfriend. This song feels somewhat depressing, as it focuses on her love being one-sided––unfortunately another common theme of Bewitched.
“Haunting” initially caught my attention because it starts with a “haunting” violin line, bringing the listener in. This song reminds me especially of Lizzy McAlpine’s “erase me” ft. Jacob Collier, as its overall spooky vibe is very similar. Again, this song progresses her theme of unrequited love, but it is much more compelling because of its story-like lyricism and use of unique instrumentation from violin to piano.
“Must Be Love” starts with an interesting chord progression, which is promising, but the song ends up being too similar to others on the album. Laufey paints the imagery of herself as a hopeless romantic, falling in love in every situation. She alludes to Alice in Wonderland, as she does in other songs throughout the album: “Lost in your wonderland / I hope I’m never found.” I found this song a bit repetitive and cliche but maybe that’s the point: an overly saccharine love song.
When I saw the title, “While You Were Sleeping,” I automatically made a connection to the 1995 rom-com of the same name, likely an intentional allusion. Though cutesy and still a bit saccharine, the song is much more upbeat and fast paced. Laufey seems to fall in love in every song. Her lyrics, however, describe a betrayal to her initial promise in “Dreamer,” when she says, “I don’t recognize myself” and “I can’t quite believe you think I’m beautiful.” Not very true to her self-love message, she seems to fall in love head first and forget what she had initially thought about love and boys.
“Lovesick” is a fast paced ballad, a clear difference in form from the rest of the songs thus far, but still has a similar storyline as the others. There is almost a sense of desperation in the melodramatic verses, with a “my life is a movie” type of tone to it. She says, “In the morning, you’re not in my bed / I’ll just sleep until I fall dead.” This is an extreme way to describe her emotions, but it does make for fun storytelling.
A standout song on the album––from a musical perspective–– is “California and Me” featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra. The orchestration brings new life to a song with a similar storyline as the other love songs on the album, with the beautiful and fairy-tale-like instrumentation. Laufey does a fantastic job combining a contemporary message with a classical orchestration. While this is a letter to a lover that left, in some ways, the song is also a love letter to California. “The mountains of LA will weep through the night / Driving down Sunset’s a terrible sight.”
“Nocturne (Interlude)” is solely piano and feels like intermission music from an old movie. It combines musical themes heard throughout the first half of the album. It’s the perfect halfway pause in the album.
The tempo slows down a bit and the vibe gets more melancholic on “Promise,” as to convey a lilt in one’s relationship. The second verse is very aesthetic and humorous in its imagery: “So I didn’t call you / For sixteen long days / And I should get a cigarette / For so much restraint / No matter how long I resist temptation / I will always lose.” The vocals are unique and ranging in this one, which I especially can appreciate. Yet lyrically, she seems to have lost herself, and is regretting how she’s changed for men.
“From The Start” was one of my favorites, from the start (please excuse pun). This was the pre-released single that I couldn’t stop playing on repeat, and it got me pumped for the album. It brings the fast paced jazz back, a distinction from “Promise.” The lyrics are also much more playful and very catchy, due to their fairy-tale-like imagery, which is almost realizing the ridiculousness of her situationships. Also, she really starts to play into the jazziness of her songwriting with her amazing and unique vocal scatting. One of my favorite lyrics was, “Oh, the burning pain / Listening to you harp on ’bout some new soulmate / ”She’s so perfect”, blah, blah, blah.” These lyrics add a lot of humor to the piece and make it a bit less serious.
“Misty,” sounds like early Ella Fitzgerald. This is not surprising, as Laufey has said in numerous interviews that Fitzgerald is one of her main musical influences. Although most of Laufey’s songs have a jazz influence, this one in particular feels like a classic Fitzgerald jazz standard, not just because of the songwriting, but also because of Laufey’s vocal scatting and the light drumming. The ending is beautifully jazzy and really ties the song together.
Unfortunately, in “Serendipity,” the message feels stale, just like most of the love songs on this album. Yet, it is still enjoyable because of its fun violin feature. The chorus is pretty, but besides that, the lyricsim continues Laufey’s hopeless-romantic narrative: she still has hope for her relationship because of serendipity.
With “Letter To My 13 Year Old Self,” the tone of the album takes a complete shift, for the best. This song has so much more substance in the lyrics than almost every other one of her love songs,, and stands out for that reason. It’s about growing up, protecting your inner child, saying the things you wish your 13-year-old-self could have known. “Try to say your foreign name and laugh.” In Laufey’s case, growing up in Iceland of Chinese descent, she wanted to fit in because of her cultural differences, likely being surrounded by Eurocentric beauty standards and cultural customs. However, in this song, she realizes that her differences are what make her so special and beautiful. The lyrics in this piece are heartwarming, and don’t mention any love interest (a first, I know). So, even if it’s a bit cliche, it’s nice to hear that her dreams are coming true and that she’s making her 13-year-old-self proud. Laufey sings, “I wish I could go back and give her a squeeze / Myself at thirteen / And just let her know / Know that she’s beautiful.” Inside and out, this is a great penultimate self-love song.
Finally, we make our way to the titular “Bewitched,” which begins with a whimsical orchestral intro. Though the theme is similar to her other love songs on the album, this one has great storytelling and the orchestration makes it such a beautiful song that I can forgive it for being an overdone topic. This song is a clean ending to finish off the album with a very cutesy and classic orchestral finale.
Overall, I really enjoyed Bewitched. Though I am critical of its overuse of the “unrequited love” theme, the music itself is very beautiful and the orchestration and featured instruments add uniqueness. If I had to pick favorites, I would easily choose “California and Me,” “From the Start,” “Misty,” and “Letter to My 13-Year-Old Self.” I hope that audiences can connect with some of the valuable messages in the album (but ignore some of the less admirable ones) and that they are inspired to explore more of Laufey’s work, which is abundant and ever-increasing.