Sept. 8, 2023, will forever be a monumental day for modern jazz. Laufey (pronounced “lay-vay”), an Icelandic singer-songwriter who pulls from Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and other iconic jazz artists, released an album that broke streaming records in the jazz genre.
Laufey hails from a family whose life revolves around music: her mother is a famous violinist, and her twin sister follows in her mother’s footsteps. She was professionally trained in cello and piano, giving her early access to musical range and production.
Laufey released her first single for her album “Bewitched” — “From the Start” — on May 11. This song took off on social media platforms like TikTok, and currently has 106 million streams, getting around 1.3 million streams a day.
When I first listened to “From the Start,” Cupid shot an arrow through my heart and I fell in love. It’s a song about unrequited love and falling for a friend. This is seen in the lyrics “Don’t you dare look at me that way / I don’t need reminders of how you don’t feel the same” and “Oh, how I wish you’ll wake up one day / Run to me confess your love…” But despite the sappy and forlorn lyrics, the jazz song remains upbeat with soft guitar strings roaming in the background and floating violins drifting through the chorus, intermingling with the soft piano and maracas.
The album personifies love and heartbreak, with Laufey’s soft crooning vocals. It is comprised of soft melodies — ones that feel primed for slow dancing in a living room, or studying in a ritzy classical library. It embodies ethereal colors, clouds and picnics, rainy days, and a cup of hot lemon tea.
The title track “Bewitched” is the best example of the story created through production and lyrics. This song reminds me of classic Disney princess movies like “Cinderella.” “Bewitched” sounds similar to “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale,” the song Cinderella sings as she is scrubbing the floor while color-shifting bubbles float in the air. I think of the soft blue hues of Cinderella’s gown, the carriage, and the glass slippers when listening to this song. The crescendo-ing violins and the soft flutes gently drifting with the notes add a dreamy effect.
Throughout the opening tracks of her album, a choir sound is created through the mixing of the guitar and her voice scaling through similar chords. Since it’s a jazz album, there is minimal pop production — electronic beats, bass, or warped vocals. Her vocals, the instrumental backgrounds, especially the orchestral instrumental layering and the swinging beat sets Laufey’s music apart from typical jazz, but it works only in her favor. There is no other way to explain the album but enchanting. If you don’t believe me, listen to “Must Be Love” and “While You Were Sleeping,” then come back to me.
These two tracks veer from the traditional, swinging sixties jazz sound and turn towards a more modern style. Somehow it works for Laufey, the dreamy and fantastical feeling, her love-ridden lyrics assisted with the violins mixed with soft guitar strums in the background. But if you prefer the classics rather than newer age songs she covered “Misty” by Ella Fitzgerald. The first thing I noticed when listening to “Misty” is that it is slower than the original, you sense this with the piano scales in the background and the quickness in the vibrato Ella Fitzgerald uses versus Laufey’s melancholic vocals.
“Bewitched” broke records, and each song is record-breaking worthy, perfectly encapsulating modern jazz with mesmerizing songs. She is changing the modern world of jazz while still staying true to its roots.