The vocalist/producer team of Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow are back with MS MR’s second full length album How Does It Feel. There was a sense of allure about the duo with the release of their debut through their own blend of dark wave and pop boosted with more novel electronic production sensibilities. To answer the new album’s title though, it doesn’t sound all that different this time around.
Plapinger and Hershenow obviously have chemistry, and here together they create tracks that are sure to seep into that part of your brain that tells you it’s okay to have a bit of a dance. They waste no time setting a tempo in the opening track Painted, which starts so hastily with the vocal refrain “What did you think would happen?” that you’d be forgiven for thinking you missed a bar or two. Criminals is one of the more playful tracks with an optimistic beat, thoughtful rhythm in the vocals, and lyrics that dare you to step out of line: “Do you wanna play out? Do ya? Do ya?” The album also ends with a more dance-infused number Reckless which is also a fine example of Plapinger’s versatile vocals.
But darker themes underpin the album, and this spreads into a number of the tracks, both in lyrics, and in overall feel. In Cruel, for example, there’s plenty of space left for brooding between the vocals and distant synth before the whole thing builds and the lyrics direct your thoughts: “Blue was a colour I thought I knew/But every kiss, it’s like a bullet, it pierces through”. All The Things Lost evokes a dark expansive landscape through piano, strings, and sparse use of the bass drum, and the sensitive string sounds providing the backing in Wrong Victory complement the song’s troubled chorus: “When your skin doesn’t feel like home/And I don’t wanna break down and feel alone/This body only knows/ How to hold back more than it shows.”
Despite the sense of brooding that’s evoked, How Does It Feel doesn’t stand out against its predecessor in that there’s no obvious evidence of growth and development. I enjoyed listening to most of the tracks in isolation but it would stand out overall if it was more cohesive, and a couple of the songs in the second half of the album (most notably Leave Me Alone) failed to keep me immersed. Comparisons aside though, MS MR are still coming up with their own unique brand which triggers a welcome physical response at its best times and a mere lapse of focus at its worst.