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.
Some of the aptly titled Secondhand Rapture’s strongest cuts, including “Hurricane,” are stacked conveniently at the top and have been buzzing around for a while, first on Tumblr and then on last November’s Candy Bar Creep Show EP. “Bones” is a requiem rife with macabre imagery, like hearts with gaping holes in them and “forgotten savages,” the kind of pap you’d find scribbled in the margins of a high schooler’s notebook, but the song’s throbbing 4/4 beat, orchestral flourishes, and creaky guitar licks—like the waves of cresting brass and wordless hook of “Ash Tree Lane”—are too expertly crafted to resist (apparently even for the producers of Game of Thrones, who licensed the track for the show’s latest trailer).
MS MR’s knack for durable hooks, in fact, is what keeps the album’s gloomy goth-pop anchored. “Salty Sweet” is true to its title, juxtaposing a toe-tapping rhythm and earworm of a chorus with self-aware lyrics lampooning our pop culture-obsessed society: “We fear rejection, prize attention, crave attention/Just another pop confession.” The song’s bridge reiterates the album’s themes—“Fear, prize, crave, dream”—like a mantra.
Plapinger’s voice itself, which recalls Beth Ditto on the bustling “Think of You” and Florence Welch on the dramatic “No Trace,” is soothing and hypnotic, particularly during the syncopated hook of the track “Twenty Seven.” For his part, Hershenow sculpts a surprisingly varied collection of songs—from the fittingly named “Dark Doo Wop” to the symphonic pop ballad “BTSK” (short for “Big Teeth Small Kiss”)—that manages to maintain consistency without ever sounding samey or derivative.