Release Date: May 14, 2013
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic
Despite haunting the Internet with a millennial’s intensity, there’s only a hiccup’s worth of information about MS MR online. We have a location (New York) and a set of names (Lizzy Plapinger, Max Hershenow). The rest we’re left to puzzle out with the help of cryptic, 1990s-inspired photographs and the billowy songs of their debut, Secondhand Rapture.
Every year, an act will come along that feels like they were exercising the fine art of balance between a precise sense of cool and inherent pop charm since before they could even walk. Increasingly over the past year, MS MR have emerged as one of the prime candidates to lay claim to that crown in 2013. For the New York duo – comprised of vocalist Lizzy Plapinger and production whiz Max Hershenow – it’s as if the very essence of artfully realised, enchanting melodies is second nature.
The symbiotic relationship between music and video, between sound and image, has long been a complicated, often contentious one. It's easy to conflate MS MR's debut single, “Hurricane,” with its original mesmerizing music video, a super-storm of images skillfully matched to the inner workings of singer Lizzy Plapinger's “dark and foul” mind and producer Max Hershenow's shimmering heat-lightning synths. The New York duo's full-length debut, however, proves “Hurricane” was no fluke of nature.
"Hurricane" announced MS MR as a group equally inspired by Massive Attack and Adele: they're sleek, but not quite as aloof as pure trip-hop, and also fiery, if not as straightforward as the 21 chart-topper. MS MR explore this duality in their sound from a number of different angles, some more successfully than others, on their debut album Secondhand Rapture. They come close to a Top 40 sound on "Think of You," even with the chorus "I still think of you/And all the shit you put me through," and get filmic on "Bones," where brass and rolling timpani add an air of frosty majesty.
Before MS MR had written a song, the band already knew how they would initially release their music, conceiving a Tumblr rollout strategy complex enough that Wired first reported it. The project was originally the idea of Lizzy Plapinger, co-founder of boutique NYC pop label Neon Gold, and it was consummated when she started working with producer Max Hershenow. After putting out a few singles under the guise of anonymity, they made music to fit the Tumblr plan in the form of 2012’s Candy Bar Creep Show EP.
The world inside Secondhand Rapture always seems on the verge of breaking. The title fits; either we’re vicariously surging with joy or we’re riding to the afterlife on someone else’s heels. Given the marriage of apocalyptic lyrics with sugared hooks, it’s probably both at once. MS MR perform dark, wild pop that spills over itself, song after song.
Last year’s introductory EP – the scrumptious Candy Bar Creep Show—heralded a future so blindingly bright for New York twosome MS MR that they’d have to wear shades indefinitely. Yes, even in the shower. A killer quartet of ferine, richly romantic, widescreen poptasmic beauties all wrapped in deluxe artpop décor. Fame, business-class travel, swankpads, a butler called “Lurch”, Caviar n’ crisps, Grade A Narcotics and their own line in action figures were surely just a teeny bell ring away.
Above all, MS MR has an affinity for the theatrical. They emerged anonymously in the summer heat last year and dropped the dangerously intoxicating “Hurricane,” followed by the eerie Candy Bar Creep Show EP in the fall. The cloak of anonymity fell away shortly afterwards to reveal the dual masterminds behind the project: Brooklynites Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow.
The twelve tracks that make up ‘Secondhand Rapture’, the debut full-length from MS MR - that’s New Yorkers Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow - are effectively pop songs, but with a darker twist as a result of the dreamy sounds they create. ‘Fantasy’ demonstrates this well, its catchy melody (strangely similar to Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’) is sung with the delivery of a club classic, with the production to match. While at times this begins to irritate, as if the pair are awkwardly straddling the line between dark pop and club hit, here, it works.The same can’t be said for ‘Think Of You’ however, which is a little annoying.
Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow did what countless Brooklynites have done: They started a Tumblr. They steadily released what would eventually become debut Secondhand Rapture without revealing their identity. Now that the secret and their full-length is out, Ms Mr may not have the occult-like mystique they initially created, but they've hatched a decent bedroom synth-pop collection.