Release Date: Jul 17, 2015
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Left-Field Pop
The track titles on MS MR suggest a troubled state of mind. Leave Me Alone, Reckless, Cruel, All The Things Lost, Wrong Victory – all these and more are signs of the emotional darkness Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow have mined while readying their second album. Yet despite the promise of close self-examination and recriminations of wrongs done, this is still an album with a good deal of strength in resolve.
Three years after making a name for themselves with the single "Hurricane," on How Does It Feel MS MR balance where they've been and where they're going. The formerly anonymous duo revealed the names behind the music (singer Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow, respectively), but also returned to their old home base of Bushwick while recording their second album. Similarly, the pair expands on the smoky mystique of "Hurricane" and Secondhand Rapture on these songs, taking that sound in a more immediate direction with the help of co-writers such as MNDR, Tove Lo, and drummer Zach Nicita.
As co-founder of New York label Neon Gold – which has released records by Haim, Charli XCX and Marina & The Diamonds – Lizzy Plapinger deals in bold pop hooks on a daily basis. It’s a role she carries into MS MR, the band she formed with producer Max Hershenow in 2011. The duo’s second album (following 2013’s dreamy ‘Secondhand Rapture’) is coated in glossy pop sheen, but it’s also full of depth and nuance.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. NYC synthpop pair Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow made thundering waves in pop with their debut LP Secondhand Rapture two years ago - stardom beckoned after they wowed with fizzing Internet-friendly aesthetics, leftfield electro-pop and oddball inspirations. The band made much of their meteorological beginnings on the campaign for Secondhand Rapture, their first album, talking in depth about the affect that their surroundings and bad weather had had on tracks like 'Hurricane'.
The New York duo MS MR resembles a pop-art design firm, a partnership of sorts that happens to offer pop music among other holdings. Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow met as Vassar students, after Plapinger started the label Neon Gold as a thesis project. They rolled out the Candy Bar Creep Show EP on Tumblr in 2012, and their followup debut Secondhand Rapture came with "visual treatments" for all of its songs.
MS MR takes comfort in concealment. Take one look at the moniker the New York duo of vocalist Lizzy Plapinger (MS) and producer Max Hershenow (MR) hide behind. On their sophomore album, How Does It Feel, rather than cut deep to reveal personal truths, Plapinger indifferently sings dull, cliched lyrics. Opening track “Painted” dives headfirst into a sea of synth as she sings, “It’s getting old loving everyone else/ More than you love yourself.” Elsewhere, tired phrases taken from inspirational posters keep popping up.
MS MR's second album, How Does It Feel, kick-starts with no preamble with the jumpy and escalating "Painted." This signals the extreme highs and lows of the duo's follow-up to 2013's well-received debut, Secondhand Rapture. From the energetic start to the tough power ballad, "Wrong Victory" and the booming, militant love song, "Leave Me Alone," then back up to the obvious hooks of the title track and the crafted synthetics and big sound of "Reckless," How Does It Feel has spikes in both tempo and quality. .
Secondhand Rapture, the 2013 debut by New York alt.pop duo Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow, suffered from the distraction of the album’s accompanying visuals, Secondhand Captures. Sensibly, the songs are left this time to sink or swim on their own merits. At first, this seems to work: Painted is an arresting opener, Plapinger’s multitracked vocals repeatedly asking: “What did you think would happen?”, offset by Hershenow’s house-influenced euphoric backing; the more introspective Wrong Victory is equally powerful.
There is no doubting that MS MR are a talented pair. Having met at liberal arts college in New York, vocalist Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow graduated in 2010 and had made their name with debut album, ‘Secondhand Rapture’, less than three years later. Now, they return with second album, ‘How Does It Feel’. ‘Painted’ doubles as ‘How Does It Feel’’s opening track and lead single, ushering in what seems like a new direction for the duo on just about every platform that they could muster.
On the second album from MS MR, the follow up to its 2013 debut, “Secondhand Rapture,” the New York duo continues to showcase the two sides of its musical personality. You might call those facets an exhalation and inhalation; “Leave Me Alone” is the latter, with vocalist Lizzy Plapinger affecting an introspective, seemingly wounded, and reserved mode — “please just leave me alone,” she sings over light touches of noir guitar licks and muted horns. The title track, on the other hand, is defiant and brashly expressive, with more upbeat production from Max Hershenow: the drums more prominent, the synth lines doing more of the melodic work.
MS MR’s 2013 debut, Secondhand Rapture, felt like it slipped through the cracks, perhaps because the album favored more subtle music gestures: bewitching soul, gothic girl-group swoons, darkwave dance grooves, and glittering electropop. This understatement aligned well with the Brooklyn duo’s generally low-key demeanor—after forming in 2012, frontwoman Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow kept their identities a secret at first—and vocal approach. Although Plapinger certainly harnesses her inner Florence Welch occasionally (see the fiery “Head Is Not My Home”), she sounds far more comfortable channeling ’80s bubblegum-pop goddesses and ’90s R&B crooners.
Middlebrow pop music is a crowded field in 2015, and New York City producer-singer duo MS MR’s latest effort, How Does It Feel (note the conspicuous lack of interrogative punctuation, which I’ll come back to), only contributes to this growing crop. Indeed, Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow’s sophomore album sounds less confident and more cookie cutter than their 2013 debut. Whereas, Secondhand Rapture benefitted from a macabre motif and a few risks sprinkled throughout (remember that incursion into country music on “Head Is Not My Home”?), HDIF operates in a comfortable space that often renders it sterile.