MS MR’s 2013 debut, Secondhand Rapture, felt like it slipped through the cracks, perhaps because the album favored more subtle music gestures: bewitching soul, gothic girl-group swoons, darkwave dance grooves, and glittering electropop. This understatement aligned well with the Brooklyn duo’s generally low-key demeanor—after forming in 2012, frontwoman Lizzy Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow kept their identities a secret at first—and vocal approach. Although Plapinger certainly harnesses her inner Florence Welch occasionally (see the fiery “Head Is Not My Home”), she sounds far more comfortable channeling ’80s bubblegum-pop goddesses and ’90s R&B crooners.
The latter is an especially pronounced influence on MS MR’s sophomore effort, How Does It Feel. Plapinger’s vocals are frequently doubled and layered over one another, while flourishes such as strings exacerbate the record’s languid tempos. “Wrong Victory” is a downtempo neo-soul jam with orchestral shivers, liquid grooves, and Plapinger’s emotion-cracked voice, while tinny horns and slow jam beats slink through the sultry kiss-off “Leave Me Alone.” The album-closing “All The Things Lost” is even more stunning: It’s a stark, piano-heavy ballad in the vein of Fiona Apple on which Plapinger bares her grief-twisted soul.
On the downside, How Does It Feel’s tendency toward introspective, midtempo songs leads to some rather unmemorable songwriting, especially on the album’s second half; for example, both the synth-crested “Tunnels” and trip-hop-inspired “Cruel” lack spark or bite. These weaker moments stand out even more next to the album’s energetic, upbeat songs: “Reckless” and highlight “Painted” are soulful disco jams with roots in shiny ’90s rave culture, courtesy of the Moby-circa-Everything Is Wrong glassy piano and splattering beats, while the title track and “Criminals” conjure glossy mid-’90s girl gangs such as Wild Orchid. Although How Does It Feel is far more subdued and inconsistent than Secondhand Rapture, MS MR still has no peer in its ability to twist retro and modern influences in fresh ways.