From the opening moments of Mama’s Boy, which kicks off with its title track, The Lunar Laugh invokes a softie image of sunny melodies and sing-song harmonies. The first lines, however, reveal the album’s added dimension when it says, “Mama’s boy comin’ at you with both arms swingin’ / He’s gettin’ tired of turning the other cheek”. Not only does this clue the listener into the darker roots of many of the album’s songs, but it also surprises with a self-aware, almost comedic take on itself. The Lunar Laugh knows that it makes straight-laced suburban music that draws inspiration from old-fashioned places, and the band embraces this identity, even going so far as to entrust the entirety of its front cover to a disinterested house cat.
Mama’s Boy is the sophomore LP from The Lunar Laugh, following 2015’s acclaimed Apollo. Where that album found the lead singer-songwriter often delving into world-minded topics, this one finds him in a more personal, vulnerable place. The music plays into this progression as well, with Mama’s Boy less of an exercise in vintage sounds and more tuned to a personal eclectic blend.
The Lunar Laugh’s lineup is bigger this time as well. The group is now a trio instead of a duo, and there are many guest musicians in the recordings (one of whom is, in a brilliant move, actor/comedian Lucas Ross on banjo). The core trio is now able to organically hit three-part harmonies, which lends an extra flavor of sweetness to the savory pop/rock affair.
The opener, “Mama’s Boy”, is especially bright, kicking the album off with a dazzling tune that picks up moments of hand claps and kitschy melodica along its runtime. It also has a bass line that prefers the upper register while what sounds to be another bass has fun with a fuzz pedal elsewhere. Perhaps the most decidedly emasculate line in the song, “You can bet your mama said it’s good to cry”, gets punctuated by a couple of guitar solos in a witty turn.
Other songs are as catchy and upbeat, often with non-verbal melodies a prominent presence. “She Needs More Love” has fun with arranging and layering multiple vocal parts everywhere amidst finger snaps and bouncy drums. “Take A Little Time”, by comparison, is a more laid-back listen but is just as bright and busy in its moderate tempo. In addition to non-verbal backing vocals (which run the gamut of ahs, ohs, and doos), this track weaves in quaint mandolin and beautifully fluttering strings. The latter gets a full-fledged solo.
There are other moments of colorful instrumentation that complement The Lunar Laugh’s drums and guitars with varying degrees of prominence. “The Bedroom Door” heavily features trumpet and cello, for example, while “Living A Lie” keeps its spacey synthesizer in a more subtle background role. The most inordinary track of the bunch is “A Better Fool”, which goes full doo-wop in 6/8 time with a horn section. It seems a little out of place with the rest of the album, almost like a B-side, but the different light that it gives the group’s affinity for vocal harmonies is a welcome addition, as is the album’s only saxophone part.
On “A Better Fool”, The Lunar Laugh also dips into some of its more melancholy lyricism. Its chorus sings “Is something wrong with me? / Is something wrong with you?”, and the forlorn pessimism of its verses include the lines, “You’re leavin’ me forsaken / This vow was made for breakin'”. This is one of the sulkiest songs on the record, yet it remains a breezy listen.
By comparison, “Work In Progress” comes from a similar place but uses it as a starting point to explore a complicated past relationship. One of its early lines muses, “Seems this whole thing’s been a bust / And I’m doomed to die alone,” but its chorus takes a larger look at the situation, stating, “I was a work in progress then, and a work in progress I’ll remain”.
Both of these more downbeat songs are on side one of Mama’s Boy, so the transition to side two is of particular note. “She Gets Stoned” rounds out side one with a less personal subject and ends with a smattering of applause to signal the record flip. Side two then kicks off with “Doin’ Alright”. With a jangly tambourine in the background, the band sings a chorus of “Don’t you worry ’bout us, Mama / ‘Cause we’re doin’ alright (yeah, we’re doin’ alright)”. While continuing the boyhood framework set by the album’s outset, this song also serves as a reassuring pick-me-up.
When the Mama’s Boy reaches its concluding two tracks, it sends the listener off on a calm, happy note. The percussionless “Lullaby Moon” is a simple guitar waltz with sparse piano bordering on a ragtime timbre to give it an antiquated sailor image. The song looks to nautical landmarks of light in the face of nightfall, then fades into soft harmonies and glistening atmospherics.
This leads to “Nighthawks and Mona Lisa”, which was released last spring as a single and fittingly ends the album with warmth. Following all of the various emotions felt on Mama’s Boy, “Nighthawks” is a love song through and through, using comparisons to nature and art to describe the narrator’s love for his significant other. It’s charming as a standalone song, but in the context of the full album, it’s even more poignant. Despite the troubles addressed in its prior 40 minutes, the album remains resilient in its belief in love.
Mama’s Boy abounds with catchy melodies, moreso even than The Lunar Laugh’s last project. The trio traverses many flavors of sound while adhering to a core foundation in the classics of 60’s/70’s pop and 90’s/00’s alternative rock. Even with its many influences, though, the band offers a signature sound that is as personal as the stories it tells. Add to that a thoughtful spread of vocal harmonies, and one has a stellar pop record with plenty of replay value. It’s easily one of the highlights of early 2017.
Mama’s Boy is out now via European label You Are The Cosmos Records on CD and vinyl. Physical copies can be ordered through Bandcamp or Get Hip Recordings and are also available at OKC/Norman Guestroom Records locations. Bandcamp also offers the album for download, which can be accessed through the player below.
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.
aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.