By Martha Kowalski
After many years it brings me great joy to finally say the words: Lauv has released a debut studio album. Since 2015, singer-songwriter Ari Staprans Leff – professionally known as Lauv – has produced dozens of songs defined by his unique stripped-down electro pop vocals and music, signed by his iconic blue V autograph, but hasn’t yet put them together into a single, finalized album. The day has come and I’m pleased to announce ~how i’m feeling~ has been worth the wait.
In some ways it is like welcoming back an old friend that you haven’t seen for a while. They’ve changed in some ways, but deep down it’s like they never left and are exactly the same as you remember them. That’s the impression I have from ~how i’m feeling~ in comparison to Lauv’s earlier works. I met you when I was 18 (The Playlist) was and continues to be the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear Lauv. The high school junior me sitting in an art studio, drawing a still life of most likely fruit or water glasses, with my headphones on, escaping into this playlist as my own little secret.
While radio stations started overplaying “I Like Me Better”, this guilty pleasure playlist let me still appreciate and discover more of Lauv’s music as he continued to add and update the playlist over the years. I fell in “lauv” – pun fully intended – with each song. I could never forget the lyrics to “Reforget,” “Adrenaline” was a jazzy, snappy tune without being too overpowering as the title would initially suggest. “Paris in the Rain” was fragile, delicate and lovely; you feel like you’re looking through a crystal clear piece of glass that you don’t want to break. With his hopelessly romantic lyrics, subtly catchy beats and a splash of blue in each accompanying image, Lauv set a definitive style for himself and a spot in my favorites.
Why am I talking about his previous songs instead of his new album then? Ah, wait: I am getting to that, my friend. That’s because it’s impossible to fully enjoy ~how i’m feeling~ without acknowledging Lauv’s previous songs as a comparison. If I met you when I was 18 (The Playlist) was all blue, then ~how i’m feeling~ is an entire paint palette of every color. Literally, it’s obvious at first glance in the cover art. Lauv’s idea for ~how i’m feeling~ was to capture the many features of his personality. ~how i’m feeling~ includes six different characters in six different colors which, according to Lauv, are “represented by purple (existential Lauv), blue (hopeless romantic Lauv), green (goofy Lauv), yellow (positive Lauv), orange (f***boy Lauv) and red (spicy Lauv),” with each character being in control of their own songs on the album. With more colors come more emotions, and Lauv doesn’t disguise anything, he is transparent and sincere about feelings of loneliness and depression, of heartbreak and remorse and of carefree happiness. Every song is raw and genuine, expressed through intricate lyrics creating a story in each track. Even as the songs take on more complex, candid, and vulnerable tones, Lauv still manages to capture the same style that has distinguished his music from the start. His catchy, layered melodies are still the key feature of his music and a testament to his continuous style – both in previous works and this album.
True to my Lauv origins, I find myself being most partial to the same “hopeless romantic Lauv” and the familiar sound from I met you when I was 18 (The Playlist). “Julia” is a heart-wrenching song dedicated to his ex-girlfriend Julia Michaels, with whom he collaborated to create “There’s No Way” back in 2018, which to this day remains my favorite song of Lauv’s. Other highlight tracks for me include “Feelings” and “Sims.” Additionally, this album contains many collaborations with artists such as Alessia Cara, Anne-Marie, and Troye Sivan. Included is also a Latin-pop track with Sofia Reyes; “El Tejano” follows the currently-trending style to blend English and Spanish lyrics, but paired with Lauv’s signature beats, it doesn’t lose its originality. “Who” features BTS, fusing Lauv’s electropop with K-pop to create an unexpectedly intense and edgy track, while “Mean It” features indie band LANY – Leff’s and Paul Klein’s vocals merge together so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell apart who’s singing which parts.
I wouldn’t say that I love every song on this album. Some might say that this is even too long, but I would have to counter that by saying that there are a lot of dynamics in each track that leads one into the other. There is a natural progression between tracks, and each of them feels like it should have a place in the album. And for such a prolific songwriter as Leff, 21 songs is surely just a small sample of his work. That being said, I enjoy some songs more than others. My favorites which I have mentioned above – “Mean It,” “Feelings”, “Sims”, “Who” – I could listen to on repeat and, in fact, I have. Others I can get by just listening to once in a while. “Billy” and “Sweatpants” may have a good potential idea going for them, but the beat gets a bit messy and hard to follow that it just feels too disjointed and too much for one song. Nevertheless, even these you can easily catch yourself humming parts of the chorus at random times of the day. Lauv has created an album that envelopes many sides of himself, but in the end it’s still the classic Lauv I’ve listened to for the past years. It’s more complex, more intricate, and more open while still keeping true to his personalized, simple electropop. The blue of I met you when I was 18 (The Playlist) has transformed into a canvas of every color of Lauv’s personality in ~how i’m feeling~ and the result is a musical masterpiece.