New York-based newcomers MS MR's debut album, Secondhand Rapture
, is aptly named. It's an exploration in derivation, media obsession, romanticism, and the seemingly hopeless search for meaning in this overcrowded, plugged-in world. The band doesn't achieve their goal of rapture, but they're okay with that. The sugary rasp of frontwoman Lizzy Plapinger bounces through 12 tracks of impish pop infused with fantastical harps, strings, and chanted harmonies. Like a timorous Lady Gaga or a grungy Tegan and Sara, MS MR sweeps you away to a pastel world of moody confessions and unrestrained romance, punctuated by tribal drums and sparkly synth, and although there's room for improvement in the lyric and variety department, their skill with glamorous hooks may have them on the path to pop stardom.
The band's single "Hurricane" gained some attention for its music video, a dizzying, Tumblr-esque slideshow of hundreds (thousands?) of moments from pop culture history, with the hook "Welcome to the inner workings of my mind." That devotion to the dreamy, mysterious side of our media is apparent throughout the album, even going so far as a Harry Potter reference in "Salty Sweet" ("I solemnly swear I am up to no good"). Like the "Hurricane" video, however, the songwriting can feel overcrowded and far too general to hold any meaning. In "Bones," whose dark beauty was recognized in a Game of Thrones
trailer, Plapinger sings, "Candy bar creep show / My highs hit a new low / Marinate in misery / Like a girl of only seventeen / Man-made madness and the romance of sadness / Beautiful dance that happened by chance." That's the kind of poetry only Billy Corgan can get away with.
The shortcomings are overshadowed, however, by MS MR's knack for flowing, ethereal melodies consistently offset by militant drumming ("Ash Tree Lane" could have been an early Arcade Fire song), and their habit of opting for the melodramatic often works in their favor. "Dark Doo Wop," the strongest song on the record, is a slow burn that builds but never explodes, retaining a sultry cool through the unbridled - almost adolescent - passion of the lyrics: "If we're gonna die, bury us alive / If you're searching for us, you'll find us side by side." In "Head Is Not My Home," their banjo twang, bluesy chants, and backwards guitar provide a vibrating and satisfying backdrop to the simple, sexy lyrics. The refrain of "Hard to believe you could cause me harm / This could cause me harm" contrasts the pure escapism of animalistic lust with the complications we don't want to think about in the light of day. It's a quandary as old as time, but the almost innocent urgency of the music makes it feels fresh and carnal all over again.
is a collection of bittersweet confessions and trembling orchestral flourishes that capture the cultural moment in which we find ourselves: the nostalgia of adolescence is singing through the confusion of adulthood like an arrow, leaving us grasping for any beauty we can find. Like the candles dripping all over the album cover, the songs sometimes melt together in an indistinguishable, shapeless memory of light, but the stand-out tracks are enough to keep the whole record illuminated.
Stay tuned, next week we will be premiering MS MR live concert at Hype Hotel.