Laufey's 'Bewitched' reimagines modern love in a neoclassical frame

Growing up, Laufey considered herself an odd kid with an “old lady voice,” yet her voice has now become her anachronistic signature in a plastically-coded melodramatic pop music industry. A graduate from Berklee College of Music, Icelandic-Chinese artist Laufey is a trained pianist and cellist who blends her classical roots with her love of traditional jazz in her composition. Laufey’s debut album “Everything I Know About Love” (2022) is more like a documentary on some of her immediate, existential contemplations during her emerging adulthood, while her second album “Bewitched,'' released a year later, is both an extension and a zoomed-in close-up of recent life imagined in her debut album.

“Bewitched” is a reviving cultural force that reconstructs the speeded, fragmented trend of today’s music industry. When other artists randomly pour their immediate thoughts into their formatted song like writing in an assembly line, Laufey takes a step backward to reexamine the moments in which people are unaware in a nostalgic, intergenerationally-interactive way, endowing the distinctions between classical music, traditional jazz and pop with new meaning. The length of each track is similar – around three to four minutes – yet unlike those who pave their music with loaded synthesizers and fast-fashion-ish textures, Laufey explores her jazz soundscape with slow motion, leading her audience to reimagine modern love stories within a neoclassical frame.

Laufey lives her life like a movie. Those fantastical, incandescent scenes in “Beautiful Stranger,” a track from Laufey’s debut album that depicts an unexpected but unresolved encounter, find their form in “Bewitched.” As she gradually discovers herself “bewitched” by a fortuitous romantic encounter on the streets of late-night London, the audience experiences a sense of magic – an echoing mantra falls to everyday life. The album’s self-titled single “Bewitched” concretizes this fluttering moment and weaves it into the sparkling melodic lines of strings, along with her tensile voice and beautiful, heart-flipping lyrics: “This all-consuming, fire-fuming / cursing at the moon and losing / all control and crying / ‘cause I think I’m falling.”

“Bewitched” is an authentic portrayal of a post-adolescent lived experience. In Laufey’s portrayal of romantic encounters, there are not only fantasies but also nuance and tension. “I hold on to every ounce of sin / I know he doesn't love me quite like I love him,” as Laufey sings in “Haunted.” Starting with a somber lament of cello, “Haunted” progresses with a lingering bossa-nova melodic line. Yet unlike the upbeat bossa-nova signature “Falling Behind” in Laufey’s debut album, “Haunted” is written with loss and devastation in the aftermath. It emanates the everyday feelings that are both untraceable and unexplainable. Such enigma is also encapsulated in “Promise,” where Laufey begins to detach herself from every cinematic rendezvous. Rather than reknitting the samba-jazz element into the melody, she steps back to a traditional, classical ballad-ish structure in “Promise,” rewriting her sentiments upon grand orchestral arrangements and ending with a minimal piano-vocal chorus: “It hurts to be something / It’s worse to be nothing with you.”

The album’s layout is unthematic and unchronological – perhaps she intentionally designed it like this. Only in disorientation can we fathom Laufey’s circular discourse on her life-story and her reflections on a geo-culturally distant past. Yet “Bewitched” is not a simple, seamless romanticized narrative on Laufey’s sporadic encounter of summer flings; it is a kaleidoscopic collage of her past and present in music. “California and Me” and “Misty” represent the two sides of Laufey’s musical heritage. The former, featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra, unfolds her transcontinental heart-torn experience in California, while the latter, a 1954 jazz standard written by Erroll Garner, is endowed with a contemporary voice that retells and reinvents a long-forgotten story. Laufey preserves her love of traditional jazz by covering and reinventing jazz voices in her generation, more directly than her ingenious weaving of a Chet Baker song title into the lyrics of “Just Like Chet” in her previous album. “Nocturne,” following “California and Me,” colors the album with a serene, picturesque piano solo that undulates under all the exuberance and tension built in previous tracks.

“Bewitched” is, lastly, a personal memory, an autobiographical documentary on Laufey’s musical and cultural exploration. Like her reference to her Chinese heritage in “Above the Chinese Restaurant” in “Everything I Know About Love,” Laufey writes her 13-year-old self a letter. “I felt different and foreign.” In an interview with Elle, she exposed her experience growing up in racially-homogeneous Iceland and seeming “white-passing” in some situations. In her song “Letter to My 13 Year Old Self,” Laufey delves into the feeling of alienation from one’s homeland. She tries to tell her younger self that there is someone who can understand her dilemma: “I’m so sorry that they pick you last / Try to say your foreign name and laugh.”

This is Laufey’s reconciliation when she reflects on years when she was marginalized, yet the song is also her self-empowerment, as she evocatively sings along the lines: “Grow so tough and / Charm them / Write your story.” This is Laufey’s story – magical, anachronistic, timelessly vigorous – and we are genuinely bewitched.


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