Photo Credit: Stefan Kohli
Los Angeles-based and Nashville-born band LANY is embarking on a fresh new journey with their third album mama’s boy. The album is full of alternative rock, dreamy lite-pop and acoustic guitar that expands the honest virtue of their songwriting by mixing in ideas from new collaborators like Russian-American singer-songwriter Sasha Sloan and producer Mike Crossey (The 1975, Walk The Moon, Twenty One Pilots). Band members Paul Klein, Les Priest, and Jake Goss derive the name LANY from their vision of the expanse of land between the Atlantic and the Pacific, choosing an acronym that stands for Los-Angeles-New-York and is pronounced “Lay-nee” (though at one point, they considered choosing “TTYL” instead).
mama’s boy arrives with the sweeping, Hillsong-esque singalong “you!”, setting the stage for an album that could be about a girl, or God, or Los Angeles in general, ambiguous-on-purpose to create a sense of wonder as to what the song could be about. The chord progression and expanding drums on “you!” (as well as the exclamation point) give it an anthemic but slightly cheesy feeling of being uplifted. The band notes about the song say that it was “an exercise in writing a love letter without referencing any physical characteristics or attributes…which is why it can be about literally anyone or anything,” also calling it their “biggest ‘rock’ song” and highlighting their affection for the slide guitar featured throughout – the little touch of Nashville hiding in the ambitiously vague production.
In the fourteen tracks on mama’s boy, lead singer Paul Klein’s vocals float languidly like they’re finding their way down a trickling stream without urgency. His register is calming, but also pretty unaffected in a way that sells the material short. On “cowboy in LA”, a hopefully romantic song about being the outsider that gets the girl, the Tulsa, Oklahoma native’s slight country twang is palpable but barely, and the affectations meant to solidify this cowboy’s chops – “Palm trees, square dancing under the moon,” or “Thunder, pick-ups and cheap gasoline” – fall flat; when he sings, “Yeah, all the other boys in town all look and talk the same // But I got a different kind of heart // I’m a cowboy,” he sounds exactly like all the other boys in LA. Considering his fashion catalog modeling credits and his past relationship with pop princess Dua Lipa, he might be exactly like all the other boys in LA, Oklahoma be damned.
The point of view on mama’s boy shifts repeatedly, though never in a manner that’s disorienting, as the pace of the record is anything but brisk. Although partnering with new co-writers allows LANY to open up, that perspective was not paramount to structuring the album’s track list and the songs thematically spin about-face in ways that detract from their genuineness. “cowboy in LA” finds its protagonist wanting to “skip the club…skip the crowd” for a date because he’s “got a different kind of heart,” only to reflect on how much he loves clubbing and cocaine three songs later.
“if this is the last time” is a salute to the family unit, highlighting formative relationships with the singer’s mother and father and activities they’d do together, such as “go to the mall and buy some shoes,” and it’s immediately followed by “i still talk to jesus”, a self-deprecating torch song about a bad boy who lies to his mother and goes “from the club straight to the church” because “it’s the same prayer.” In the end, the album produces a confused message about who the singer really is, and hints that he might not really know himself except through his mother’s eyes.
With these shifts in perspective, mama’s boy points to its protagonist’s fragile sense of self-worth and casts his emotional sensitivity as his strongest connection to his mother. There is an innate tenderness lent to the lyrics replicating delicate emotions LANY clearly tries to convey, but Klein’s vocals don’t add sincerity. Songs through the middle of the record (“paper”, “good guys”, “sharing you”) highlight that fragility in the ways the protagonist either can’t find his way out of a bad relationship, or can’t muster enough to break out of the pack and get the girl, both casting him as indecisive. Throughout the record, Klein is consistently self-deprecating – sometimes sarcastically, sometimes seriously – but never sells it enough to encourage the listener to feel bad for him. He’s a mama’s boy who’s still got some growing up of his own to do.