California alt-pop singer Lauv is just about one of the last bastions of the bland and bro-approved world of self-pitying sadboi pop who hasn’t yet migrated over to the burgeoning pop-punk scene. Racking up collaborations with globe-spanning acts like Anne-Marie and BTS and writing songs for acts as diverse as Charli XCX and Celine Dion, you’d think that eclectic spirit might find a way into his music. Lauv’s sophomore album certainly takes a step up when it comes to the melodies on display, but his nasal singing voice and surface-level self-pitying lyricism still make him one of modern music’s most unlikeable narrators. For someone with what seems like a whole wealth of problems to discuss, there’s not much to connect to here. That doesn’t mean you won’t come away from the project without a couple songs in your head.
The opening track “26” initially makes it seem like Lauv might be growing up and taking responsibility, insinuating for the first time that he “broke his own heart” instead of lyrically railing against those it seems like he treated wrongfully, but the chorus immediately throws that away and plunges us back into a doom-and-gloom world where he sings things like “maybe I’m just broken.” The blown-out distortion he often applies to his vocals is an even worse effect when he remains in his falsetto register – it sounds like he’s singing through one of the speakers that stick out of the ground at a kids’ playground. Both “26” and follow-up track “Stranger” show why he’s in-demand as a songwriter – he essentially capitalizes on a mishmash of the trendiest, most formulaic pop sounds of the moment, with plaintive, watery synth hooks and up-front stomp-clap beats – it’s all Kid LAROI “Stay”-core. The melody on “Stranger” is actually highly catchy and would have been a godsend for another singer as Lauv muses on being desensitized to relationship red flags after so many romantic implosions, but the same vocal effects drag it all the way back down. The track “Kids Are Born Stars” features one of the better instrumentals on the project, with a more upbeat, syncopated angle, but this time it’s the lyrics that make it unlistenable. Lauv sings from the perspective of his 8th grade self, informing love interests that they should kiss him now before he becomes a really (repeated four times) big star. There’s brief moment at the end where the music cuts out and the drums come back strong, which might have worked if Lauv had an ounce of emotion or variation to his voice to provide some sense of a build-up. Mostly, he just comes across as a highly obnoxious person to be around.
You might be able to guess the entire lyrical content of the track “Molly in Mexico” from its title alone. It really doesn’t get much deeper. It kind of sounds like he wrote it while partaking in the experiences he discusses on the track, because it’s laughably underwritten – he often defaults to “close” or “closer” or awkwardly repeats the same thing twice in a row to fulfill a rhyme scheme. The album’s opening half does close out with two of the better tracks here, however. “All 4 Nothing (I’m So In Love)” brings pop mastermind Cirkut on board, and for all of the stabs at watered-down 80s trends here, this one sounds like it could have come from the era, really capturing a specific nostalgia. Over certain kinds of blissful yet lurching guitar chords that could have coloured a cheesy pop-rock tune, Lauv sings about the fear of losing something great. “Stay Together,” as well, has inflections on his vocals and harmonies that honestly verge on a country tinge to his standard instrumental palates, and he pulls it off in an oddly charming way. For once, he’s communicating an emotion effectively, sounding like a mixture of incredulous, exasperated and thankful after dodging a romantic bullet.
The better tracks on the project continue to be grouped together. “Summer Nights” brings Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence on board for production, and while it’s not the greatest matchup with Lauv’s work, he still brings his best to the table with a glitchy drum n’ bass beat while Lauv sings some cliches about being taken back to the past on top. “Time After Time” is another one that shows off how good his natural pop instincts can be at times – the little silences in the track do quite a lot, and the melody stands out on the project as a whole. It’s still delivered in his annoying falsetto, but it’s also one of the more symbolic tracks from a lyrical perspective as he dives into his inescapable relationship with substance abuse. The album’s middling final run kicks off with “Hey Ari,” yet another track where an artist in this lane hits a bunch of buzzwords while explaining how sad they are without saying anything unique or personal in the process – despite the track’s address to his own given name – and “Better Than This,” another forgettable 80s-inspired track with some tired rhyme schemes he already used elsewhere.
The tracks “Bad Trip” and “I (Don’t) Have A Problem” get into some of the most uncomfortable and concerning lyrical territory and some of Lauv’s biggest forays into more of a pop-punk style on the project – the former due to his delivery over some amateurish guitar strums and shouted backing vocals, and the latter emphasized by a more alt-rock quiet guitar riff juxtaposed with a fuzzy, muddled explosion of sound meant to be “heavy” but only making me want to remove my headphones, especially when he starts screaming up the octave overtop of it later on in the track. Things close out with piano ballad “First Grade,” where Lauv seems to be building up to a massive revelation: “It’s OK to be who you are,” he sings, like too many of his ilk before him without a hint of elaboration or nuance.
While Lauv demonstrates here that he certainly might be one to watch going forward if you see his name pop up in the writing or production credits, adding his persona into the mix is still a recipe for disaster. Add this one to the surprisingly lengthy list of albums that predicted their score in the title.
Favourite Tracks: All 4 Nothing (I’m So In Love), Time After Time, Stay Together
Least Favourite Track: Molly In Mexico