The mysterious New York City-based musical duo MS MR (Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow) emerged to make their imprint on 2012 with “Hurricane,” an introspective alt-pop masterpiece heralding the arrival of a new band, a new sound and a new approach to pop. An unofficial video for the track popped up on YouTube in May 2012 and has since garnered more than 1.5 million views. Awarded ‘Best New Track’ on Pitchfork, the duo’s single quickly rose to number one on Hype Machine.
“We’re interested in exploring the nature of mixed media and collage,” says Lizzy, “and how music transcends all these various platforms.” Chief among them is MS MR’s lively—if thoroughly mystifying—Tumblr page, which they used unprecedentedly to debut their EP, the critically lauded Candy Bar Creep Show. “Hurricane” joined “Bones,” “Dark Doo Wop,” and “Ash Tree Lane” on the self-released EP, which they released in the fall of 2012.
Mainstream and underground press on both sides of the Atlantic soon took notice and before long MS MR’s songs were popping up everywhere, including “Bones” on the trailer for Game of Thrones Season 3 and “Hurricane” on catwalks everywhere during Fashion Week. “Prepare to be blown away,” predicted the Guardian. KCRW praised the pair’s “brilliantly produced cinematic pop” while the NME marveled, “There’s a spark of innovation to New York newcomers MS MR that doesn’t come so soon with new bands.” Soon after the release of their EP, the duo signed a deal with Columbia Records for the worldwide release of their debut album.
In the beginning of 2013 MS MR released “Fantasy,” the first track off of their upcoming album Secondhand Rapture. For the full-length Lizzy and Max initially wrote and recorded all the tracks in Max’s home studio in Brooklyn. Composed over the course of a year and produced by Max, the duo then brought in Tom Elmhirst (Adele, Amy Winehouse), to mix the full-length and add some additional production at the legendary Electric Lady Studios. “It was a big leap from the glorified closet where we recorded our demos to our first real studio,” says Max, “but it was an amazing opportunity for us to augment the tracks with some live instrumentation and to work with Tom, one of our musical heroes.”
Secondhand Rapture is an intriguing aural Jenga that combines humbled ballads (“Dark Doo Wop”), experimental epics (“Head is not My Home”), and pure pop belters (“Think of You”) alike. It expands on what Candy Bar Creep Show sketched out, seamlessly referencing everything from ’80s new wave to ’90s pop, doo-wop to country. “We both listen to a lot of different music from all different genres and time periods,” says Lizzy. “We wanted to create an environment that was cinematic and grandiose but also self-aware and playful. It wasn’t until we finished writing that we found the sonic threads that tied certain tracks together. These ultimately became the album.”
“We both realized we found an emotional narrative more through the music and melodies than the lyrics,” says Max, “so the album title was inspired more by the environment we wrote in than lyrical themes.” Secondhand Rapture touches on the pair’s relationship to media and the weather: “‘Secondhand’ refers to the mediated way in which we relate to each other and the world around us,” says Lizzy, “We’re fascinated by how technology gives us access to a vast new universe that feels incredibly intimate despite being once removed.” For both, “rapture” felt like an accurate description of this feeling, euphoric with a dark underbelly, and was a nod to the climactic unrest of 2012, which they found inspiring.
It’s a stroke of serendipity that Lizzy and Max are even making music together. They may giggle uncontrollably and complete each other’s thoughts, but these Vassar alums hardly knew each other during college. Lizzy was a media-studies major, releasing records under her burgeoning imprint Neon Gold. (She’s gone on to release records by artists such as Passion Pit and Ellie Goulding.) Max was an urban-studies major with a concentration in modern dance, and started composing music for his choreographies. It wasn’t until after graduation that they connected – Max was studying at the Martha Graham School for Dance and was looking for a singer to collaborate with while Lizzy needed an unbiased sounding board for the songs she was starting to write in private. “There was an element of throwing caution to the wind. Send someone an email, hope for the best,” explains Max.
They connected in person three months later in December 2010. To find their footing as collaborators, they recorded a sweeping cover of Patrick Wolf’s “Time of My Life.” Curious to see where else the music could take them, they decided to try their hands at composing some original material. This led to the swelling, mercurial tune we know now as “Bones.” “It definitely set a tone for the band,” says Lizzy. “In person, we’re quite upbeat and bubbly, but the music allowed us to tap into the most extreme elements of our personality.” Max adds, “From the beginning we knew we had a really unique musical chemistry. We continued to write as much as possible and didn’t really think of ourselves as a band until we’d collected a body of material.”
“We wrote in secret around both of our day jobs so our intensely personal friendship developed alongside our musical relationship, as we wrote the album,” says Max. Their collaborations evolved into a inter-reliant process: “We share the earliest kernel of an idea and extensively cross edit each other so that our process becomes completely intertwined.”
Translating the recorded tracks to a live stage was a challenge the duo hadn’t considered while writing, but support tours with Marina and the Diamonds, GROUPLOVE, and Jessie Ware gave them time to develop into an act the Village Voice called “intoxicating” and voted one of the best shows of the summer. MS MR will be touring extensively throughout 2013, playing headline shows and many festivals around the world including Glastonbury in the UK, Lollapolloza in Chicago, and Splendour in the Grass in Australia.
Secondhard Rapture tracklisting:
3 Ash Tree Lane
5 Dark Doo Wop
6 Head Is Not My Home
7 Salty Sweet
8 Think Of You
9 Twenty Seven
11 No Trace
12 This Isn’t Control
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