Illustration by Sezi Kaya of Lauv, creator of "Without You"
"Without You" is another great product of Lauv's formula for success. (Illustration by Sezi Kaya, Parsons School of Design)

‘Without You’ Cements Lauv as the King of Pop Melody

The artist’s simple rhythms, addictive melodies and evocative lyrics have converged into a masterful EP that demonstrates his songwriting and production genius.

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Illustration by Sezi Kaya of Lauv, creator of "Without You"

The artist’s simple rhythms, addictive melodies and evocative lyrics have converged into a masterful EP that demonstrates his songwriting and production genius.

In the wake of his debut album, “~how i’m feeling~,” singer-songwriter-producer Lauv has delivered no shortage of content during quarantine. From a podcast centered on the complications of modern-day mental health to a SoundCloud demo release, Lauv is constantly connecting with his audience. This long-standing personal relationship with his fan base has created an expectation that Lauv will continue to create meaningful, captivating and memorable songs. And in his latest EP “Without You,” Lauv does not disappoint.

Lauv, whose real name is Ari Leff, amassed a following with his 2017 pop hit, “I Like Me Better.” The song’s mellow guitar strumming and stripped-bare instrumentals are punctuated with cool-toned keyboard notes. But the single enticed millions of listeners with its main attraction: the catchy melody.

Throughout the piece, Lauv’s effortlessly produced humming in the background drives the song forward and adds a predictive quality that keeps the listener engaged. By relying on a catchy, addictive melody rather than the overproduced and flashy sounds that tend to populate the genre, Lauv created an instantly recognizable place for himself among the greats of pop music.

Lauv kept up his musical momentum throughout his compilation album, “I met you when I was 18. (the playlist)” and 2020 album release, “~how i’m feeling~.” Again and again, Lauv leaned on his surefire formula. His simple rhythms, addictive melodies and evocative lyrics allow Lauv to build his distinguished identity as a master of pop tunes.

Critics can reduce Lauv’s formula to mere repetitiveness, but no one can deny its emotive effectiveness in engaging the listener. The melodic genius of “Without You,” an EP written and released during quarantine, therefore comes as no surprise to fans nourished by Lauv’s smooth vocals.

In the opening track, “Dishes,” Lauv presents a snapshot of the unfillable hole left by a recently ended relationship. Backed by a straightforward, repetitive melody and four-note guitar part, Lauv conveys his estrangement from some of life’s everyday moments with a lyrical vignette. Lauv feels the gravity of freshly emptied moments like hair stuck in the shower drain and dishes sitting in the kitchen as he is confronted by life without his partner.

But the real intimacy behind his lyrics shines through in the acoustic version of the song. His sweet, soothing voice and a few strums of guitar are all Lauv needs to drop you right into the picture he is painting. The acoustic rendition peels back the layers of production and sits you face to face with Lauv as he muses, “I wonder if the stars aligned / If there would still be you and me.” The acoustic serenade is even Lauv’s preferred version. “The chord changes make it v emotional,” he explained in a tweet.

Following the floating cadences of “Dishes,” the EP makes a sharp turn toward the syncopated, rhythmic, bouncy melody of “Mine (You Can’t Find Love In Mollywood).” This time, Lauv reflects on his insecurities in a past relationship with a lying and cheating partner.

Although the first verse injects the song with a lively, moving beat, Lauv’s ascent into a higher vocal register during the chorus juxtaposes this playfulness with a lamenting melody. Until the beat drops. An instrumental interlude takes over, punctuated with a slew of “Oh yeahs” that adds a layer of distance between Lauv and his experience of the relationship. Lauv then brushes off this distance as an unfortunate quirk of searching for love in the jaded and rocky terrain of Hollywood.

“Mine” stole the crown as my favorite track off of “Without You” simply because I was singing along on the very first listen; the melody is simply too addictive to not play on repeat in your head for hours on end. Lauv’s lyricism adds a fun twist to the already entertaining listening experience, with lines like “Oh, you build me up and turn me on / You play me like your favorite song” and “Yeah, all you ever did was lie / Pants on fire, pants on fire.”

On the third track of “Without You,” “Miss Me (Demo),” Lauv further elaborates upon his past romantic insecurities by detailing an imbalanced and confusing relationship dynamic. The song was released on SoundCloud months prior to the EP’s release because Lauv could not contain his excitement.

The unassuming first verse and pre-chorus feel like a journal entry or post-breakup text message, uplifted by simple moving notes on a synthesizer. Then the song climaxes with a second verse sung in a higher octave, as Lauv’s rhythmic vocals fix on a few close notes to drive home his deep frustration and pain caused by his toxic relationship. Lauv uses this verse to convey his despair at an unreciprocated love cruelly coupled with a partner’s mixed messages: “And how long will it take to think of what you’re gonna say? / It’s been a couple of days, I haven’t heard from you / Was it something I said that made you get inside your head? / Girl, you’re messing my head and now it hurts.”

The EP concludes with “Love Somebody,” a much-welcomed fourth example of his trusty musical formula. The song cold-opens with a tease of the chorus. Lauv’s voice, the only sound, sings a melody. A guitar riff, velvety bassline and percussive clap slowly fill up the sound, serving as the framework for Lauv’s stream-of-consciousness vocals on the verse.

A current of bare vocals in the chorus then pushes the listener forward through a river of Lauv’s destructive and spiraling inner monologue: “Every time I think I love somebody / Always find a way to throw it all away…I don’t wanna watch the tears roll down your face / No, I hurt you and I, I’m sorry / All I wanted was to love somebody.”

Lauv’s emotional turmoil is painstakingly clear. He is trapped in a cycle of wanting love but fearing the hurt he will inevitably cause his loved one. But in witnessing his own self-sabotage, Lauv finds himself becoming the toxic partner that he was victim to only one song prior on “Without You.” In his post-chorus lyrics, “Why do I do this? / Pick you up and put you down and put you through this,” Lauv repeats his airy three-note melody tinged with remorse.

These lyrics, a mirror of the opening lines, are now accompanied by fuller, yet still humble, instrumentals and layered vocals. In circling back to the beginning lyrics, Lauv mirrors his own experience. Again, he completes and restarts the cycle of building up his partner only to eventually hurt her.

The recounting of Lauv’s remorseful love life in “Without You” came as something refreshing to his adoring fans. Especially in a music scene largely deserted by its music makers amid the halting challenges of quarantine, Lauv has risen to the occasion and produced emotional and captivating music that leaves fans thirsting for what he will release next.

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