Deviating from the infectious yet tender California-dreampop sound they’ve solidified over the past six years, indie-pop trio LANY are trading synths for a more acoustic instrumentalisation on their third album, mama’s boy.
“Oklahoma, it made a man out of me,” frontman Paul Klein recalls on ‘cowboy in la’. The Los Angeles-by-way-of-Nashville band are fully embracing their Southern roots for the first time, opting for a more reflective, storytelling approach to their music. There have been nods to the trio (comprised of Klein, drummer Jake Goss and guitarist Les Priest)’s respective home states of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri over the years — on 2017’s ‘Hericane’ Klein notes “Oklahoma, this time of year / California, it’s different out here” — but mama’s boy is an official tribute to the boys’ Southern heritage, religious upbringings and a love letter to their families across the album’s 14 tracks.
“You’re the sun to the moon / You’re my ocean, painted blue”, sings Klein on the record’s opening track ‘you!’ Against a steady drumbeat that replicates the sound of a heart pitter-pattering, LANY signal the end of their ‘Malibu Nights’ era — represented by a moon — and dives into a tender, sparkling synth number that’s rounded off by the stunning addition of a gospel choir.
LANY are no strangers to singing about heartbreak and young love — just look at their sophomore album, comprised of nine tearjerkers. Although mama’s boy touches on more universal themes such as family and religion, the trio makes sure to include some of their signature rose-tinted ballads and breakup tunes. In ‘cowboy in la’, a honeyed track about Klein’s experiences as Southern well-mannered gentleman falling in love, Klein confesses “Sunsets / They ain’t got nothin’ on you” as he fondly recalls a blossoming relationship. But things turn bitter on ‘bad news’ when Klein says “I’m no good for you” because of his intense touring schedule (the band played 120-something shows last year), admitting “I don’t want to break your heart” even though the relationship is going well. It takes a certain emotional level to be this self-aware and by diving into his untouched emotions, Klein and company present a unique and personal cautionary tale.
Throughout mama’s boy, LANY experiment with new sounds, using slide guitars, flugelhorn, two choirs and the humble acoustic guitar. The trio’s music is always warm and poetic, but the gentler instrumentalization inflicts a more nuanced emotional touch to the tracks. ‘if this is the last time’ is a love letter from Klein to his parents that unfolds as a heart-rending anthem as Klein croons, “If this is the last time please come close / I love you with all my heart, you know / I don’t wanna cry, I’m bad at goodbye / If this is the last time”.
This delicate feeling continues on the emotive tune, ‘i still talk to jesus’, which has Klein analysing his relationship with God by admitting he’s not a perfect Christian. He comments on the fact he goes straight from the club to church and sings, “If there’s a heaven I hope I get in / but I probably won’t / I break all the rules, do all the things the Bible says don’t” against a rich gospel choir. It’s Klein at this most vulnerable, opening up about all the things he does that are un-Christian like, such as “done a couple lines”, “smoke marijuana”, “lie to his mama” and “drink too much”. There are points where Klein’s rich falsetto sounds like it’s about to break as he reflects on his actions, but he always powers through, “always tryin’ to do better than yesterday.”
Alcohol is a substance that appears throughout LANY’s discography, from drunk nights filled with “Way too much whiskey in my blood” on 2018’s “Malibu Nights” to young love with “Pancakes, champagne, babe, can I stay? It’s almost 3” on 2017’s “Pancakes.” The trio leans into alcohol as a lyric for mama’s boy, with it making appearances throughout the record. It becomes fully present on ‘when you’re drunk’, in which Klein calls out a budding romance by singing, “you only ever want me when you’re drunk / it’s the only time you ever think of us.” Later, on ‘sad’, Klein attempts to get over an ex and shares “And I get so drunk that I pretend / that I don’t miss all the good things that we had” now that she’s moved on. It’s reflective the music from ‘Malibu Nights’, complete with electric guitar, synth hooks and anthemic chorus as Klein attempts to “make you sad.”
mama’s boy ends with a sugared stripped-back tune ‘nobody else’, a folky crooner with tender instrumentalisation from the flugelhorn, piano and acoustic guitar’s sounds melting together. Klein puts his heart on the line again in a new relationship, showing he’s moved on from the painful heartbreak that resulted in ‘Malibu Nights’. “If heaven doesn’t want us / will you go with me to hell?” he questions before listing off the places they can go on a “crazy trip”. It’s a hopeful and sweet note to end on, with Klein repeating “would you lend a hand to me if I needed help? Would you keep me company when I’m by myself?” in the chorus. The heartbreaking events the unfolded within ‘Malibu Nights’ have been buried and the heartbreak that left Klein rattled and bruised has healed, paving the way for more optimistic tunes to return to LANY’s repertoire.
LANY has never produced a bad album, but mama’s boy is their most refined and nuanced to date. It sees the trio moving away from the glitzy West Coast-dreampop sound they presented in their 2017 self-titled debut but leaves listeners feeling moved and inspired. The California aesthetic that influenced their pop-ladened hooks was missed and there lacks feel-good sun-kissed tunes, although the emotional dives on ‘mama’s boy’ are heightened by stripped-back lyrics and instrumentalisation. ‘mama’s boy’ sees LANY reaching new levels with their sound by being their most genuine and authentic selves in their most cohesive record to date.
mama’s boy is released this Friday, October 2nd and is available to pre-order and pre-save now.