When MS MR surfaced in 2012, they were shrouded in mystery. At least initially, the New York duo of Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow hid their identities, and instead let their music — a percussive-heavy amalgamation of ’90s R&B, British soul, gothy synthpop and neon-hued ’80s pop — speak for itself. The gimmick paid off, and yielded plenty of attention for MS MR’s debut EP, Candy Bar Creep Show, a versatile collection of dank trip-hop, sultry neo-soul and dramatic electropop.
Secondhand Rapture, MS MR’s full-length debut, combines this EP and another early single, the Florence and the Machine-esque gallop “Fantasy,” with several new songs in the same vein. The theatrical “Salty Sweet” — with its tribal drums and overlapping harmonies — and the seductive, string-plucked murmur “BTSK” stand out, and the glassy piano-pop of “Twenty Seven” isn’t far behind. Hershenow’s warm, nuanced production is wistful without becoming consumed by nostalgia, familiar without feeling tired; his inventive appropriation of soul, electro, orchestral and hip-hop feels timeless.
But throughout Secondhand Rapture, it’s Plapinger who dominates the emotional narrative with her powerful vocals. Most often, she channels the melisma and confidence of Florence Welch (“Head Is Not My Home”) and the sultry growl of Zola Jesus (“Bones”), although there’s often a welcome pop-radio lilt in her voice — especially on the standout “Think Of You,” which resembles the ’80s roller-rink bubblegum production of Stock Aitken Waterman (think Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”). Plapinger sings about disillusionment and disappointment as much as she does smoldering mental and physical connection (“Secrets lie in our way/ Your kiss tastes better outside the light of day,” she sighs on “Head Is Not My Home”); as a result, MS MR’s music bubbles with surface emotion and raw nerves and her debut is a sleek, mesmerizing listen.