The synth-pop group aches with boy-band sincerity over sugary arrangements and even a little pedal steel on their anodyne new album.
Their obscure band name or moody group photos might convey some mystery, but “LANY” simply means “Los Angeles New York,” and frontman Paul Jason Klein is just a 32-year-old babyface whose heart was very publicly torn out by Dua Lipa. Malibu Nights, the band’s sophomore album, documented the breakup in excruciating detail, solidifying LANY as a group of attractive, sensitive boys who know their way around a synth pad. This is still true on their latest album mama’s boy, which is occasionally monotonous and—in a development only partially related to said monotony—vaguely Jesus-centric.
The inclusion of contemporary Christian music conventions is half surprise and half natural extension of LANY’s asexual, boyband-adjacent appeal. If the neon cowboy on the album cover wasn’t enough to tip you off, there’s a pretty clear attempt on mama’s boy to reroute LANY from a quirky coastal band to a “traditional values”-based southern one. This version of LANY is a bit closer to the truth — the band formed in Nashville, and Klein was born and raised in Oklahoma. On some songs, he slips somewhat amusingly into a southern accent that doesn’t appear in his speaking voice. Nestled between the expected tracks about complicated love and heartache, Klein assures us that although he has a “past more stained than glass,” he still “[talks] to Jesus,” and is just a “cowboy in L.A.”
Along with the hamfistedly titled, gospel choir-featuring “i still talk to jesus,” “you!” is probably the song on this album with the most explicitly contemporary Christian feel, and also acts as a case study on what makes this album so disappointingly dull. It’s just too clean—too uninventive, too insistent on generalized emotion without committing to a particular one. The guitars are crisp but lack passion, the drums are restrained, and Klein sings in anodyne, youth-group-leader metaphors: “You’re the sun to the moon/You’re my ocean painted blue,” and so on.
The love songs, however, are much better, full of sugary synth lines and even a little steel guitar. “bad news” has a level of sex appeal comparable to going apple picking with your high school crush, but it still inspires very specific butterfly feelings. Klein’s voice warms and softens with his fake southern accent, lamenting that he’s not “good for you/baby, I’m bad news,” and boom—suddenly you’re you’re 16, you have pimples, and popular kid Paul Jason Klein just told you that he likes you.
Such is the transformative power of emotional hot boys. As bizarre as LANY’s pivot to country pop is, they still manage to infuse it with enough charm where it doesn’t fall flat. Most exciting are the moments where Klein tweaks the image of the stereotypical southern gentleman he’s imitating. On the album, Klein is nonchalant about going to hell, and in the music video for “you!,” he’s wearing a dress with his dirty blonde hair long, holding hands with his bandmates as they walk into a blue desert night. Admittedly, as Klein is a cis white man, this image isn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking or transgressive, but like his music, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes a little earnest mediocrity is enough.
Buy: Rough Trade
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