Laufey and the Art of Listening
Championing a modern take on old jazz traditions, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laufey layers history and harmony alike in her debut studio album.
Her voice is like kissing a blooming morning glory: a soft, lush experience steeped in unapologetic romanticism. Draped in vintage vocals and infused with rich cello, Laufey’s Everything I Know About Love is music made for the sentimental and naïve—and yet maintains a canny self-awareness of the album’s rose-coloured lens.
SO ENCHANTING IN EVERY WAY
From a family of music lovers and performers, Laufey Lín Jónsdóttir (pronounced “lay-vay”) grew up surrounded by jazz standards and classical music. Everything I Know About Love reflects this: the album spans summery bossa nova (“Falling Behind”) to glittering harps sat in a dreamy soundscape (“Dear Soulmate”) to the languid punches of guitar and orchestra à la “Bennie And The Jets” (“Everything I Know About Love”). Threading disparate vintage sounds through her eye of her needle, Laufey weaves a tapestry of sound all her own. While her flow is sometimes clumsy (some of the orphaned imagery in “Above the Chinese Restaurant” confuses the ear), the album’s sound and identity remain a stunning constant.
My personal favourite is “Night Light,” a song dedicated to a nigh-universal young adult rite of passage—moving out. Intimate piano ushers you into a soft nighttime picture: “A treasure chest of everything I’ve known, safe inside my childhood home,” she gently sings, pressing memory into melody. Layers of string and vocal chorus bloom in time with the chorus’s overwhelming farewell. Laufey’s songwriting hallmark is word-painting; every peak and note is crafted to fit the emotional contour of the lyrics, from the fragile sweetness of “Beautiful Stranger” to the vulnerable rawness of “Hi”. Everything I Know About Love is at once diverse, cohesive, and rich with the musical identity of a self-professed romantic.
THAT’S WHAT LOVE WILL DO TO YOU
Laufey isn’t shy about her aesthetic. On her YouTube shorts, she professes to living a life that feels almost like a storybook; the music and lyric videos for Everything I Know About Love, the titular song of the album, is done up in vintage fairy tale fonts. In the age of marketing that promises aesthetics that will finally fill the hole of identity chewing at us all, one might come to wonder if the romance of Laufey’s music is merely wrapping paper.
This August, hid between the pages of select literature across London bookstores, lay the sheet music for every song on Everything I Know About Love. Complete with signatures, personalised messages, and hidden by Laufey herself, the gesture is full of the joie de vivre that romantics revel in. Many of her fans, myself included, have clamoured for chords, tabs, sheet music—her lyric video for “Everything I Know About Love”, the titular track which was released as a single from the album, featured chords along with. Those of us not in spitting distance of the Big Ben resigned ourselves to having to figure it out by ear, like the last releases. Imagine our collective surprise when Laufey leaked her full album days before release as sheet music.
THE ART OF LISTENING
The first time I listened to the album was in my mother’s car. Subsumed by anxiety and stress, a week deep in a frantic and fruitless late August house search, I pried open my inbox one more time to review details about the nth apartment when I saw the mailing list email. As an avid follower of her music from the day I first heard “Magnolia” from her debut EP Typical of Me, it was a relief of the sweetest variety. I submerged myself in the sounds before resurfacing midway through the album in an act of excruciating self-control; I realised I had an unparalleled opportunity to experience the album in a novel way.
As a child, one of my arguably greatest sins as a budding musician was playing songs without first listening to the recording. I quietly revelled in the transgression. The experience is completely different: you decode, unravelling compositional intent and making your best guess at the emotional energy of the piece from a simple sheet of paper. When I finally sat down to attempt sight reading, “Just Like Chet” became far faster and upbeat in my innocent hands; I sank my voice between the weighty lines of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”.
As much as musicians are urged to listen to recordings and learn songs by ear, I missed the ability to carve my own path through a song first. Laufey knows her fans love the romantic, and I count myself one of them; the idea of learning her full album before pressing play was intoxicatingly so. Admittedly, like many of my other whimsical fantasies, I fell short of playing all the songs blind before finally caving and listening to them all. I wrote this article with the album on repeat, singing the whole time.
The way we listen to music today can become consumptive, without thought, background noise; there’s simply so many artists vying for our attention and so little of our attention to go around. Laufey’s music instead draws me in, beckons me to smell the roses that bloom between the cello strings. She makes the trappings of life, the small moments and personal tragedies, become large and glimmering universes in and of themselves. Her admissions of naïveté and twisted perceptions of love echo and resonate among her audience. Laufey unearths the beautiful from the mundane, and in a world where insincerity, irony, and apathy reign supreme, her music is a blessing.
If this article intrigued you and you’d like to play her songs before listening to this album, here are the scores.