Photo Credit: Kate Biel / Press
Ari “Lauv” Leff has a pleasant voice – it’s not the most instantly recognizable, nor the most dynamic, but at its best, it effectively communicates the malaise of Lauv’s Gen-Z audience. I say this because, on his third studio album, Lauv seems adamant about submerging his voice in layers of distortion and autotune until it sounds like he’s singing from underwater. It’s a severe and persistent mark against an otherwise pretty good pop album.
All 4 Nothing circles several familiar themes for Lauv – heartache, drug trips, and mental health among them. Frustratingly, Lauv often fails to transcend pop tropes on these issues. “Bad Trip” hints at a bad experience with drugs, but seems to hold back narratively – leaving us with little more than a familiar story of ‘I took Molly and had some big feelings.’ “26” meanwhile, offers a largely unsympathetic portrayal of fame’s burdens, as Lauv croons, “26 and rich // How the hell did it come to this?” Elsewhere, lyrical clunkers – like “I was always bending over backwards // Just tryna crack your heart without a password, word” – abound.
All 4 Nothing’s worst moments occur when Lauv tries too hard – like on the trap-pop meets Chainsmokers-style EDM hot mess “Summer Nights,” or when he crudely addresses his mental health on “Hey Ari?,” singing, “Hey Ari, are you happy? No.” Alternately, All 4 Nothing shines when Lauv lets loose and plays to his strengths. The title track is a cutesy, low-stakes pop anthem that recalls the 28-year-old’s biggest viral hits. The album could also do with a little more of the tongue-in-cheek attitude of “Kids Are Born Stars,” where Lauv sings of a time before DMs, filled with “AIMs” and “less-than-threes for hearts.”
All 4 Nothing – which is, thankfully, considerably slimmed down compared to 2020’s bloated, 21-track, made-for-TikTok ~how i’m feeling~ – ends with one of Lauv’s finest tracks, “First Grade.” Though its messaging rarely exceeds motivational poster levels, Lauv’s authenticity shines through. A largely acoustic number, it offers proof by counterexample of the production failings that blight much of All 4 Nothing. In the final verse, we hear Lauv’s voice crack as he sings of getting through childhood pain – a powerful moment of vulnerability that we’re prevented from witnessing on the rest of All 4 Nothing.