The track titles on MS MR suggest a troubled state of mind. Leave Me Alone, Reckless, Cruel, All The Things Lost, Wrong Victory – all these and more are signs of the emotional darkness Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow have mined while readying their second album.
Yet despite the promise of close self-examination and recriminations of wrongs done, this is still an album with a good deal of strength in resolve. There are two big elements to this – the bold, punchy production that seems to banish almost all sense of vulnerability, and Plapinger’s stripped to the bone lyrics.
She bursts straight out of the blocks with the repeated hook, “What did you think would happen?” on Painted, while a piano that reeks of the late 1980s teams up with a rising bass to supply the musical adrenalin shot. It is a powerful statement for the first twenty seconds, reinforced and even bettered by Criminal, which confidently cohabits the same space – but now laced with a sense of risk.
The album continues in this vein, a curiously effective blend of musical confidence and lyrical doubt – which means some of the more vulnerable concessions are not always thoroughly convincing. One clear exception is the classy Reckless, extremely danceable but with the kind of lyrics you can delve into repeatedly. “Only if we’re lost can we find ourselves again” is the punchline, and while the song may not fully cut loose it powers forward impressively.
The dark side of the album peels back an emotional layer as Plapinger sings of “when your skin doesn’t feel like home” on Wrong Victory, betraying a possible pressure to look good at all times in front of the camera: “I don’t wanna break down and feel alone. This body only knows how to hold back more than it shows”. All Things Lost also presents a bleak picture, the single low notes on the piano like exposed bones, while Alone is starker still, telling of the “hard truths biting my heels”, the beats sharpening in response before the detached, unaccompanied plea to “please just leave me alone”.
This is, then, a darker side to the first MS MR album – and while the duo retain a certain amount of aloofness and control over their revelations it is still gratifying to hear the range of thoughts put forward in their music. How Does It Feel, then, is a second album that reveals a band with plenty left in the tank.