The world inside Secondhand Rapture always seems on the verge of breaking. The title fits; either we’re vicariously surging with joy or we’re riding to the afterlife on someone else’s heels. Given the marriage of apocalyptic lyrics with sugared hooks, it’s probably both at once. MS MR perform dark, wild pop that spills over itself, song after song.
Secondhand Rapture doesn’t lean far from the teasers that studded the New York duo’s Tumblr in the months leading up to its release. Producer Max Hershenow eschews synthpop’s familiar chimes and squelches for a rich orchestral palette. Drums roll and clatter beneath pianos, harps, and horns. When synthetic strings lurch on “Hurricane” or slash across “No Trace”, they sound like they could have steamed up from real gut and wood.
Lizzy Plapinger’s voice braids each track’s elements together as the most immediately organic instrument in the mix. Whether shuddering at the back of the chorus in “Bones” or catching air like a parachute throughout “Ash Tree Lane”, her vocals lock-in perfectly with Hershenow’s polished storms. At the front of the mix, she delivers lyrics with nuance and conviction, sapping the cringe from songs like “Bones” and “Twenty Seven” that toy with gothic melodrama.
A few songs flow too thickly. In the middle of the album, “Salty Sweet” veers down a Calypso beat, stacking its percussion to a wobbly height as Plapinger barks isolated verbs. With its snare rolls and gleaming arpeggios, “Think of You” pinches all its sound into a chorus that’s more clogged than hard-hitting. MS MR love grand gestures, but the drama lands best when it’s patient like on “Dark Doo Wop’s” slow, moody build. The song’s doomsday lyrics read as the album’s philosophical core: ”As long as we’re going down / Baby, you should stick around.” Secondhand Rapture blurs the line between throwing up our hands in defeat and throwing them up in joy.
Essential Tracks: “Ash Tree Lane”, “Dark Doo Wop”