Did they tell you you should grow up when you wanted to dream? They weren’t talking to Jonny Shane. On MLC, his debut as Modern Love Child, the alternative pop-rock artist forges a fun and deceptively deep first album out of youthful sounds and sentimentality.
The appeal to youth is one of those things that makes pop music pop, and as the economic signifiers of grown-upness become less attainable, it only becomes more widely relatable. “In a City” excels at putting you in the place of the underdressed Shane, who isn’t particularly far along for his age, whose guitar catches stares from yuppies, and whose family assumes he’s high when they see him. We’ve all been there–or is it just me?
The tone of the album isn’t exactly innocent, though Shane’s voice fits somewhere between Adam Young and Andrew McMahon, he has a lyrical fixation with dreams, and he often works in bright, chipper synths. It’s also not strictly juvenile. Take “Greenwich Girl,” a playfully dark twist on the privileges of wealth that quotes “Ring-around the Rosie.” While his characters are crawling bars, hopping cities, and snorting adderall, mortality looms large.
“Just for Kids” offers the clearest, most compelling take on Shane’s complex relationship with aging. He delivers the refrain, “falling in love ain’t just for kids,” with low-key satisfaction over mellow guitars. There’s none of the bursting ecstasy of puppy love, but Shane brings genuine sweetness, wonder, and some hope for us younger millennials and older gen-z’ers who are taking our sweet time settling down.
The album’s nervously anthemic closer “Stay Young” swerves from a clean coming-of-age finale. Here, with muted feedback and a rushing drum pulse, Shane looks back on the mistakes he’s made and then, instead of moving forward, looks back a little further to the teen he was before he made them.
It’s kind of an oblique turn, pitting innocence against immaturity against adulthood with no clear winner. But like the rest of the album, it lands with catchy melodies and undeniable pop-rock radio polish. It doesn’t hurt to have instrumental contributions from Cameron Knight of Alt-J and Jacob M. Barry of Two Door Cinema Club, plus production by Charlie Russell, who’s worked with the likes of Passenger and OK Go.
If you’ve ever felt like a half an adult, MLC will speak to you, and at any age, you can hopefully find a way into the child-like joy of it all.