Effortlessly cool New York duo caused an appropriate storm in 2013 with their single ‘Hurricane’ and the accompanying album ‘Secondhand Rapture’. It was an immaculate alt-pop record with real character, something severely lacking in the modern charts and genre in general and although the duo amassed a cult-like following, they still remain relatively unknown on a larger scale. It felt as though Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow had noticed this unjust dismissal with their returning single ‘Painted’, a visceral and relenting track centred around a frantic bridge that builds momentum and crescendo with more force than all the tracks of ‘Secondhand Rapture’ combined.
Previously we had seen a bitter tone of voice on the likes of ‘Think Of You’ yet it was all carried with a bubblegum sweet tone of voice not entirely dissimilar to children calling names in the playground. You understand there is some malice brewing beneath the surface yet the childish giggle throws you off guard. ‘How Does It Feel’ dispels the sugar and speaks with an evident snarl in the teeth. Structures remain similar, ‘Cruel Victory’ and ‘No Guilt in Pleasure’ are both easily identified as alternative indie anthems yet they have been glossed in a wonderful coating of 80s synth and bright piano keys. Within this lean towards lavish shine you lose some of the melodrama previously found on the likes of ‘Bones’ which drew comparison to Lana Del Rey which is unfortunate as MS MR simply personify theatrics, take a look at that album cover.
The title track has some luxurious string introduction and a backing melody with fragmentation similar to Róisín Murphy and a melodic bridge standing against the off centre screams of Max. There is also more likeness to mythology and folklore which are likely to draw further comparisons to the fair Florence Welch yet sonically this record sounds more like something plucked from the discography of fellow alt-pop songstresses Marina & the Diamonds or Oh Land. The combination of Max and Lizzy adds a dynamism Marina has always seemed to lack and the high production values allow for envisioned potential of what great dance tracks some of these songs will make.
There is large brass synth on ‘Leave Me Alone’ and follows on with their 70s lounge influences although it seems to simmer slightly with a chorus that aims for hypnotic yet feels slightly monotonous. ‘Reckless’ also feels like a lyrical structure bridged together by tired paraphrasing including the retch worthy ‘only when we’re lost can we find ourselves again’ yet even within a fairly faceless track there hides a stunning vocal bridge. ‘Cruel’ relies on a steady lounge beat that comfortbaly moves along through verses before opening out onto sparse landscapes where Lizzy’s vocal and entity stands bare to the listener.
This sophomore effort is undoubtedly more of the same regarding sonic formula yet it lacks some of the variety and songwriting prowess of its predecessor. The first three tracks are undoubtedly the high point and the remaining nine seem to sit beneath a long cast shadow from there on yet in parts there feels to be something exceptional lurking beneath. ‘Secondhand Rapture’ was an album that grew upon you like an inescapable obsession and hopefully ‘How Does It Feel?’ will follow suit.
MS MR release ‘How Does It Feel?’ on 17th July on RCA Records