How does one measure talent? Creating original, inspired music? Selling out headline tours? Amassing billions of streams? The answer doesn’t matter, because Lauv is ticking all the boxes. Also known as Ari Staprans Leff, Lauv has amassed 11 billion streams in between selling out headline tours, supporting Ed Sheeran’s stadium shows, and doing the rounds of all the major American talk shows.
Now, the California musician is giving fans some new, yet familiar material with his sophomore album, ‘All 4 Nothing’. Out now, Lauv’s latest project presents a pop-led soundscape that dips its toe into introspection, similar to his gold-certified debut ‘how i’m feeling’. The singer-songwriter prefers to think of himself as a storyteller, excavating his fears, feelings, and ego to be transposed onto catchy pop tracks.
On Instagram, Leff clarified ‘All 4 Nothing’ was born from an existential crisis arising from the pandemic, leading to deep, honest reflection. It’s apparent even from the album’s opener and lead single, that listeners are about to receive a confessional; ’26’ is ballad-adjacent, plucky instrumentals accompanying a tale of honesty and disappointment. Yet Lauv’s standard peppy percussion and electronic atmosphere take over before the end of the track.
There are a few points in the album where Lauv begins to take an interesting turn, only to retreat to familiarity. ‘Summer Nights’ is the exception and the most sonically interesting track of the album. With definite potential to be a deep cut, Lauv utilises bassline production and discordant keyboards for a UK noughties feel. It’s a moreish upbeat downbeat kind of track, wrapping the despondent in a nostalgic sound.
Lauv sinks into darkness often, including the frequent references to his ego and drug misuse. ‘Molly in Mexico’ and ‘Bad Trip’ consider the addiction of both substances and relationships, as Leff toils to hold himself together. The crash of cymbals and chugging guitar in ‘I (Don’t) Have A Problem’ continues the mellow theme, showcasing Lauv’s impressive vocals, just like in ‘Stranger’. The epitome of a pop bop, ‘Stranger’ is quintessential Lauv: pretty pop at its finest. The song is about being afraid to fall in love – a fear that is dissipated by the time the album’s title track floats into view.
‘All 4 Nothing (I’m So in Love)’ is sickly-sweet with love, co-written by Lauv and his singer-songwriter girlfriend, Sophie Cates. The smouldering fear of losing the present is offset by exuberant synths and catchy confessions of being hooked on each other. “I’m so in love, I’m so in love, I don’t ever wanna stop this ride that we’re on,” chants Leff, and we’re right there chanting it with him.
This double-edged sword of happiness is microcosmic for the album as a whole, making it the perfect choice as a title track. Of the project, Lauv explains:
“The album is about the death of a dream I was chasing and waking to that dream that was already there. Up until now, I spent so much time trying to be something that I was actually ignoring what was right in front of me. If you want to really experience the magic of life, you don’t get to choose… Ultimately, this album is all about surrendering to love and surrendering to life.”
But surrendering to the realities of life, for Lauv, comes without any risks. We experience the highs and lows of personal growth right alongside his vulnerable, yet pithy lyrics, but the generic pop sound sometimes detract from their power. Metaphorically and physically, ‘All 4 Nothing’s album cover depicts Lauv’s situation – not drowning, but floating – enveloped by waves of glittering synths, vocals with magnitude, and snappy melodies. But when the tide turns, one has to turn with it, or risk sinking.
We think you’re incredible, Lauv, we just need more.
Words: Gem Stokes