Anonymity is becoming a necessary guise when it comes to new musical ventures currently, first came WU LYF, then Alt-J with their face covered press shots and now MS MR join the charge when it comes to avoiding the Twittersphere’s ominous glare. When Lizzy Plapinger (MS) and Max Hershenow (MR) first collaborated back in 2010, they recorded in secret and at first the musical community knew nothing of the duo’s noir pop origins. 2013 is here and we know the twosome’s names and their faces, right on cue in time for MS MR to dispense with their debut LP, Secondhand Rapture.
Plapinger and Hershenow’s elusive nature permeates the aesthetic of Secondhand Rapture, this is a dark, brooding, shadowy pop record. Some are attempting to label the duo’s wares as Tumblr-pop or blog-pop, but cutting away this unnecessary pigeonholing is essential, first and foremost, we are talking pop here people, no need to make a new fancy sub-genre, which just sounds shit.
‘Hurricane’ is how MS MR first appeared on most people’s wavelengths, so kicking off the album with the aforementioned track is perfect gateway into MS MR’s dark pop heart. Already championed by Pitchfork, ‘Hurricane’ is a shape-shifting, brooding pop nugget with a chorus that boasts more hooks than a fisherman’s tackle box. “Welcome to the inner workings of my mind’ Plapinger coos in a vocal that is Florence Welch meets Beth Ditto but sung under the cover of darkness. MS MR will become synonymous with twilight style music (not the film franchise!!) but ‘Ash Tree Lane’ manages to spray technicolor flashes across the songs monochrome skin with layered vocal harmonies and intermittent synth fuzz.
Although you wouldn’t say Secondhand Rapture was a tortured record, MS MR seem to be casting out the odd demon with astute layers of cathartic missives. ‘Thinking Of You’ captures MS declaring “I still think of you and all the shit you put me through” but instead of sounding like the wounded victim, Palpinger appears defiant and confident as if expelling the poison of a past love. MR can take credit for the song’s uplifting electronics and military drumming. ‘BTSK’ contains the macabre lyrics of “I found you in pieces/you’d been torn apart” while huge drum thuds are engulfed by swelling string patterns. ‘No Trace’ then caps off MS MR’s strong nature once Palpinger announces “My world’s split in two/I had to prove I didn’t think I couldn’t do it with you”.
The only slip ups on Secondhand Rapture come in the guise of the Caribbean style handclap led ditty ‘Salty Sweet’ that lacks the impact of its peers. Album closer ‘This Isn’t Control’ feels slightly anti-climatic as the finale to the pair’s debut. Tracks like ‘Thinking of You’ or the dark disco pop of ‘Fantasy’ would have been better placed crowning off this first foray into pop for Palpinger and Hershenow.
MS MR haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel and Secondhand Rapture is a fitting title for an album that sounds comfortably familiar and instantly pop but it still contains a nagging feeling that you’ve heard the album before, a little bit like watching the highlights of Jesus’ return on YouTube.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams