The Brooklyn duo’s latest offering comes in the form of second album ‘How Does It Feel.’ The sophomore effort released on Columbia seems like an extension of the 2013 debut, ‘Secondhand Rapture’ and in this vein the record lacks real bite and depth. Vocalist Lizzy Plapinger is the co-founder of label Neon Gold which has released records by Haim and Charlie XCX and these pop elements can definitely be felt on ‘How Does It Feel.’ However, Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow’s album rarely reaches the same synth pop heights as the artists released on Plapinger’s label.
Opening track ‘Painted’ is a promising start; heavily layered vocals and a booming beat with a chorus that is reminiscent of 90’s rave scene music. The fast pace of the track and repetitive lyrics of ‘what did you think would happen?’ create an exciting and dynamic track. The first 4 seconds of ‘Criminals’ could easily be mistaken for the start to Prince’s classic ‘Kiss,’ but unfortunately the similarities end there. Much like on ‘Tripolar,’ ‘Criminals’ lacks any emotion in the lyrics and although the tracks are by no means terrible, they are also easily forgotten. ‘No Guilt In Pleasure’ showcases MS MR’s synth mastery but again fails to deliver the catchy chorus needed to cement these tracks into a listener’s mind. The jazzy beats heard on track ‘Tunnels’ are accompanied by violins to add effective drama and mood; however the vocals never quite match up to the instrumental depth and so again the track feels a little lacklustre. The second half of the album (with the exception of closing track ‘All Things Lost’) is more disappointing with generic sounding synth pop tracks offering no real bite or memorable excitement.
‘How Does It Feel’ does have a few standout tracks; highlights include the moody and ballad-like ‘Wrong Victory’ where Plapinger’s vocals at last reveal a vulnerability and fragility that allows sincere emotion to be felt and adds a level of depth to the album. ‘This body only knows how to hold back more than it shows’ confesses Plapinger and this breakthrough in terms of emotion delivers a beautiful and catchy track. Similarly, title track ‘How Does It Feel’ showcases MS MR’s talent in synth pop bangers. The booming synthy back beats and rousing chant of ‘how does it feel’ encourage audience engagement and culminates into an instantly likeable dance track. Closing track ‘All Things Lost’ sees the album drift out on a notably different note to the rest of the record. Echoing lyrics and a beautiful piano accompaniment allow Plapinger’s vocals to sparkle on this more emotional and delicate track. The eerie fragility of ‘All Things Lost’ suggests that despite the album’s mediocrity perhaps all things are not lost.
‘How Does It Feel’ always feels like it is on the brink of bursting into brilliant synth pop territory but fails to reach these heights. The highlight tracks on the album offer relief from the repetitive sounds of the rest of the record and do showcase Hershenow and Plapinger’s skill, however, the overall effect is lacklustre and a little disappointing. ‘How Does It Feel’ delivers rave dance tracks with heavy synth involvement and Plapinger’s often Florence Welch like vocals prove that MS MR have all the ingredients to create brilliant pop music, but on this album it’s hard not to feel like they’ve missed the mark.