When New York City duo Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow aka MS MR released their debut album Secondhand Rapture they had time to test the water. They had already released an EP, had a blogosphere hit with Hurricane and were building hype as newcomers. The album featured a collection of previously released tracks and already felt familiar straight off the bat. With album number two – it’s a totally different game.
How Does It Feel is a totally new set of songs and places MS MR as an established act rather than a new acts trying to prove themselves. Unfortunately, as a band you really never stop trying to prove yourself unless you’re 73 and have played Wembley over 15 times. As such, How Does It Feel has to set MS MR up as band that can go the distance and create a whole new set of highlights. For the most part, album number two does that. It’s a confident pop record with plenty of big choruses ready to be devoured by the masses. What’s even more encouraging is you can tell that their sounds evolving.
From the album cover to the opening ten seconds it’s clear that the duo had disco in mind while formulating this record. Instead of ditching their old sound in search of Nile Rodgers, they lightly pepper each track with a certain disco-feel. In that way, it’s a small disco ball that turns on How Does It Feel, but it’s there nonetheless. Album opener Painted opens with a flurry of dancefloor ready keys before eventually descending back into the dark, looming sound that was the signature of their debut. The album doesn’t enter as explicitly back into the disco world again apart for on the shiny Reckless which boasts one of the effortlessly groovy choruses of the set.
When they’re not taking it the dancefloor, the pair are casting a dark shadow with tunes that weigh heavy on the heart. Plapinger’s voice is naturally dense and raspy. It lends itself easily to darker songs and that’s the common mode of the album. On the title track she sings “How does it feel with my teeth in your heart?” They deliver a message like that while still maintaining their pop sensibilities. This album rarely enters into ballad territory, rather taking its heartbreak to the dancefloor.
On Criminals, her “hearts getting dark” yet that’s translated into the most euphoric pop moment of the record. Recently CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry discussed with Radio 1 that their heavy lyrics would be too much coupled with equally heartbreaking instrumentals so they juxtapose the two. It’s the exact same situation here and for the most part they get the light and shade right. They nail it on Criminals with a howling, sparkly instrumental. In contrast the heavy-beated Leave Me Alone is exhausting.
The relationship Plapinger depicts throughout is one that’s rotting at the core. She closes the album singing, “Everyone keeps asking if we’re ok/The truth is we’re not but I don’t know what to say.” It’s somewhat gut-wrenching that you don’t get the resolve that would’ve complimented the album’s darkest moments but that’s a little idealistic – changing the course of her relationship for the sake of a musical happy-ending. The whole time she toys with the idea of whether she should stay or go. On Tripolar she sings, “It’s the terrible truth that hurts – should I even stay?” We never really get the answer to that question but as frustrating it is, it’s that tension that really suits dense sound of the album.
So how does it feel? Well, considering how dark and depressing the lyrical content is, it actually doesn’t feel to bad. If somebody handed the lyrics to you and asked you to guess the music, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a cold, piano-driven affair. That wouldn’t be half as interesting as How Does It Feel. It’s a record with a strong, pop-heart that no doubt be a firm festival favourite over the next few months. The downs of life are so much more palatable when you’re able to dance through them and MS MR understand that.