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MS MR, ‘Secondhand Rapture’ – Album Review

MS MR’s long-awaited debut LP, ‘Secondhand Rapture,’ arrives with success seeming certain. By opening with five songs that should already be familiar to listeners, the duo stacks the deck in their favor, assuring goodwill from the audience by the time the first five tracks — their four-song EP and first single — finish their run.

Those songs have been rightfully praised over the last year, as MS MR have followed in the footsteps of alt-pop stars Florence Welch and Lykke Li and moved into similar sonic territory. Similarities notwithstanding, the confidence in Lizzy Plapinger’s vocals, paired with the tastefully balanced production of Max Hershenow, is such that it’s easy to miss — or at worst forgive — any derivative elements in MS MR’s music. With its clog-stomping beat and layers of vocals, which are braided in a subtle and contemporary manner, the lead single, ‘Fantasy,’ allows Ms Mr to make a striking connection on both first listen and scrutinized reexamination.

Another name that gets tossed around in reference to MS MR is Lana Del Rey, and indeed, her too-cool-for-school ‘lude fog of a delivery can sometimes be heard in Plapinger’s vocals, though it’s mostly a tendency to sing from bottom of their range that connects the singers. ‘Secondhand Rapture’ could actually use a bit of Del Rey’s faux-classic schtick, as the new songs drift further from the alt and more into pop. Not that pop is bad, but the arrangements are written to separate MS MR from the pack and often highlight the singer’s words, which never remotely satisfy.

At its worst, ‘Secondhand Rapture’ suggests MS MR just ran out of ideas, beginning with the concept of a “secondhand rapture,” which sounds like the result of conversation in which the group sought “something that just sounds cool.” (Their attempts to explain the term points a strange understanding of what a rapture is.) ‘Twenty Seven’ explores predictable and misguided avenues of early-’90s adult contemporary, and ‘No Trace’ gets dragged to the floor by the painfully wordy and gimmicky refrain, “I had to prove I didn’t know I had to think I could do it without you.” That seems well put together when compared with ‘Salty Sweet,’ on which MS MR almost want to go reggae but choose instead to simply rhyme as many words as possible that end with “ion.” And despite the repeated drop of the s-bomb in ‘Think Of You,’ it’s about as edgy as the hits from fellow foul-mouths Sophie B. Hawkins and Meredith Brooks.

In the end, despite front-loading the album with strong previously released material, MS MR fail to establish an identity, and when they drift from their previously charted course, it’s enough to make you question the whole voyage. Maybe it’s a case of a duo finding its voice, or maybe there’s nothing there for them to find.

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