LANY Offers Plenty of Texture, but No Real Depth on Self-Titled Debut

At its best, the genre of dream pop drops the listener in an immersive atmosphere that matches the emotional content of each piece. Love is felt through shimmering synth arpeggios and kick drum heartbeats; hatred is a suffocating blend of skuzzy guitars, hard-driving bass patterns, and riffling drum rolls; confusion is conveyed through swirling sound collages punctuated by evaporating, reverb-drenched snare hits. The reason bands like Mazzy Star and Beach House are so successful is that they turn our abstract emotional experiences into tangible aural realities.

But what do you make of a band that only gets half of the equation down? Such is the case with ultra-hyped trio LANY (their name an initialism of “Los Angeles New York,” inspired by the band’s early relocations and condensed to a four-letter word for design considerations). After becoming the most popular band on Spotify’s discovery feature last year, the group has picked up fans in a hurry with dance-centric tracks that blend scintillating beats and lush atmospherics. Following opening slots for Ellie Goulding and Troye Sivan as well as a performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, the group seems poised to break through with their self-titled debut.

And, make no mistake, their inspired blend of catchy electropop and engrossing soundscapes shows unlimited promise in terms of taking infectious tunes to new heights of emotional transcendence. Sadly, there’s not much here that’s unique or interesting enough to warrant such laborious expression.

Put on album opener “Dumb Stuff” and you’re soaked with the pitter patter of rain before Tetris synthesizers bounce in; it feels like a “Quadrophenia” deep cut gone to the disco. But as soon as the lyrics kick in, it becomes apparent that LANY has spent much more time developing their atmospherics than their lyrics, offering the chorus: “Oh my god, I think I’m in love/ The way we stay up late and talk about dumb stuff.” Before you can even begin to worry that the song title might be a little too literal, the song’s only verse removes any doubt: “Come on take my hand baby/ Dance in this pouring rain/ Cause what we’ve got is like a movie and I’m not above a good cliché.” Tell me about it.

Almost every other track features such heavy-handed and shameless lyrics, where Paul Klein tells you exactly how he feels, or why he’s angry, or how he’s been slighted. He’s also prone to shoehorning puns and stock expressions into seemingly clever turns of phrase that don’t make much sense under even light analysis. The end result is inane pop content with bloviating, colossal production, the sonic equivalent of a Michael Bay movie.

There are highlight moments where the band’s ambition doesn’t outstrip their reach, where tender sentiments, synth-pop grooves and finely honed production all work hand and hand. The lovelorn travelogue “Tampa” slowly builds to a crescendo as Klein plaintively repeats “I can do better than this” to the point where it’s not clear if he’s convincing himself or someone on the other side of the conversation. It’s maybe the only time over the course of the album that his words are neither overreaching nor oversimplified, striking the perfect balance for the feeling he’s trying to express.

“ILYSB” – aside from proving that LANY just can’t resist an opportunity for an acronym, in this case standing for “I Love You So Bad” – is the most infectious tune, drenched in echoing hand claps and surround-sound toms. Ethereal keys, a falsetto chorus, and a Nile Rodgers-esque guitar line also buoy this dance-floor romper. The lyrics aren’t any good, but during these three and a half glorious minutes, you’re too entertained to notice that he says “I’m hella obsessed with your face.”

It’s no mistake that “ILYSB” has over 59 million streams, since LANY is probably better suited for an impromptu dance party playlist than literary scrutiny. It’s pure fun, and probably shouldn’t be judged by any other metric than the joy it can make you feel while you’re moving to the groove. But it’s also a reminder that there’s a world of difference between being clever and being profound and, at least for their debut record, LANY finds themselves on the wrong side of that divide.

LANY is available on Apple Music June 30.