Tag Archives: Noir-Pop

Review: MS MR – Secondhand Rapture

13 May

MS MR Secondhand Rapture

So here it is, almost a year to the day since New York duo MS MR burst onto the scene in a cloud of secrecy and dark introspection with their debut single, “Hurricane”, they have released their debut album, Secondhand Rapture. Since then the veil of mystery has been lifted, the fog has cleared and Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow have taken the music world by force. Buzz has been stacked upon buzz as the duo have grown into exceptional live performers and each new release and video has been met with greater acclaim. Could they possibly maintain this standard into a full length release or, like the lyrics of most their recent single, “Fantasy”, proclaims, would this be an instance ”When my reality/Could never live up, could never live up/To my fantasy”?

Thankfully no as live up it certainly does, pulling together 12 songs of glorious poppy darkness. There is no single theme, no thread running through the album as such but it doesn’t need one, providing as it does a combination of light and dark in a battle for and against love, life and self-awareness. Oh, and you can sing and dance along like a lunatic as well. What’s not to love?

The album opens with the five tracks that had previously been released as the Candy Bar Creep Show EP and their last single “Fantasy”. As a result, longer term fans may be tempted to skip straight to track six to start the new stuff with “Head Is Not My Home”, but to do so would be a mistake as the opening salvo sounds as vibrant and compelling as ever. “Bones” in particular has been given a new lease of dramatic life following its recent inclusion on a Game of Thrones trailer and the drumming of “Fantasy” is more thunderous and addictive than ever. Included here alongside seven new songs, incidentally all 12 were written and recorded over the same time period, these five take on new sensibilities and offer up new connotations for the listener to enjoy.

MS MR resides in a world of the macabre, a world of glitchy electronics, incessant rhythms, swirling strings and deliciously gloomy vocal harmonies. ”We really get off and thrive on a certain level of uneasiness and suspense” Lizzy told us, and that is apparent throughout Secondhand Rapture. Be it the upbeat, clap-happy fun of “Salty Sweet” or the slower melancholy of “Twenty Seven” and “This Isn’t Control”, there is always a sense of disquiet and drama within. It’s just how pop should be, full of big, majestic melodies and hooks big enough to catch a whale. The brilliantly brooding “BTSK” even contains a synth line that is oddly reminiscent of some unnecessarily successful 90s euro-dance, it sounds amazing.

There are so many highlights within; it is almost like a greatest hit compilation. Picking the next single is more taxing than trying a Rubik’s cube while drunk but our money would be on “No Trace”. It’s a beautiful and brutally theatrical piece of noir-pop, full of attitude and sass as well as trademark MS MR rhythms and striking film score-esque strings that urgently harry and batter the listener into sublime submission.

MS MR have been hitting home runs since they came out swinging last year and after the success and acclaim of their previous singles, videos and EP, with Secondhand Rapture they may well have just hit a grand slam.

Secondhand Rapture is out now and available digitally from iTunes.

Read More About: MS MR

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Watch: Strangers – “Something New”

30 Apr

Strangers Something New

For “Something New”, Strangers have brought us a video that incorporates something a little older in style. Given that the song deals with the rush and excitement of a new relationship/sexual encounter in its lyrics; “The sound of our hearts/The beat of a drum/Can feel the heat/As we follow the sun/Kiss me again/It feels like something new”; and that its promo pics featured the guys and a rather scantily clad (she actually looks rather nude) young lady, we were expecting a video whose content was perhaps a little naughty. We were wrong.

Featuring a contemporary and presumably interpretive dance, choreographed and performed by Jess Roberts, the mostly monochrome visuals provide a stark accompaniment to the shadowy noir-pop of the track. With not-so subliminal flashes of lyrics occurring occasionally and splashes of rainbow colours outlining both the words and the fluid movements, the result is akin to Pan’s People (or person) on crack. With her billowing skirt and tumbling tresses, Roberts is like an LSD Kate Bush, swirling and twirling to the sounds of Strangers. It’s surprisingly great and addictive to watch.

Stalk Strangers: Website / Facebook / Twitter / SoundCloud

Listen: Strangers – “Something New”

22 Mar

Strangers Something New

Back before Christmas, Piers from Strangers joined us for a brew and a chat where we discussed how the band was doing and the ongoing evolution of their sound. More poppy was the general thought, but without ever losing the darkness that the band had hitherto embraced so readily. Today you get to find out exactly what that means in an aural sense as Strangers have made their latest single available to stream online ahead of its official release.

It is immediately obvious that no, the shadows in which they lay their pop foundations have not been abandoned. For while “Something New” (not a Girls Aloud cover incidentally) deals with the rush and excitement of a new relationship/sexual encounter in its lyrics; “The sound of our hearts/The beat of a drum/Can feel the heat/As we follow the sun/Kiss me again/It feels like something new” for example; the sounds are those of a slightly twisted, almost sinister electro-pop. There is, in the background, a constant and almost foreboding twinkle. Like a sample from Tubular Bells, had it been recorded by Depeche Mode rather than Mike Oldfield. Also deep within, are some whisper like backing vocals from Crystal Fighters’ Ellie Fletcher.

Something else that “Something New” is, is stupidly catchy. It’s one of those songs that once you have heard it a couple of times, you will wake up with it in your head. See a couple of the lyrics written down, say “Jumping Jumping/Falling Falling” in a tweet somewhere and your brain won’t hear anything else for the rest of your day. “It’s like an addiction” they sing. Well yes, yes it is. It’s proper earworm territory.

“Something New” will be released on 16 May via Just Off Pop Records

Catch Strangers playing live in the next few days.
22 March – Labour Club, Northhampton
27 March – Babblejar, London
29 March – Soup Kitchen, Manchester

Read More: Shedding Some Light: Strangers Interview

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Shedding Some Light: Strangers Interview

3 Jan


After what seemed like an inordinately long build up (even we started our preview profiles in November), 2013 is finally upon us. The New Year is a time for reflection and forward thinking. No doubt a number of you have made resolutions or have aspirations for achievements over the next 12 months. Bands are no different. For some this year will mark an opportunity to build on past success and kick on to new levels, others will want to put a difficult period behind them and to move forward, for others this will be the year, the one where it all comes good and global superstardom beckons.

London based Strangers are likely to fall under the first category. Born out of the ashes of songwriter David Maddox-Jones and drummer Raife Hacking’s former band the then unnamed combo hooked up with producer Glen Nicholls (The Prodigy, Snow Patrol, Everything Everything) and keyboard player Piers Sherwood-Roberts in 2010 and became Strangers. The band have gained plaudits for their neo-pop sound solidly ever since and 2012 was no different with rave reviews coming thick and fast. Buzz has been building steadily and, while there has been change within Strangers in the last few months, there is genuine excitement at what 2013 holds for them. We met Piers in Soho for a brew before Christmas and talked about the changes, their hopes for the future and even the likelihood of the group living in a big communal house (Dave has just, like Piers, become a London resident leaving only Raife as the only band member residing outside the capital).

Despite having possibly the poshest name we have ever heard, along with his fellow bandmates of course, Piers is an incredibly down to earth and easy going guy. Our conversation is peppered with jokes but his enthusiasm and ambition still rings through. Like all good bands, Strangers are continuing to evolve, both sonically and in personnel terms. Glen, who Piers says ”was a big part of our sound in the beginning”, is no longer connected to the group. It was a professional parting of the ways but, he explains, the trio’s sound has continued to expand and grow. It isn’t quite as dark as when they started out; in fact, it is swimming in a sea of pop.

A few new songs were debuted at their last show of the year in November and while we weren’t there the guys have been kind enough to share with us a demo of one of them, “Broken”. Piers is quick to point out that it isn’t finished but it already sounds massive; a vast pop banger with just the faintest hint of a darkness within. “Dave said it’s like Justin Timberlake meets The Cure” laugh Piers. He’s spot on; it has a hitherto untapped dancilbility to it, a boyband shoulder hustle even. It’s been on very heavy rotation since we first heard it and we imagine it will remain so long after it comes out. Hopefully it is an indication of what is to come from Strangers as, while we loved the likes of “Safe/Pain”, “Promises” and “Shine On You”, they represented the beginnings of a subtle transition; “Broken” is something else entirely.

”We will definitely go more pop, it’s what we want”, explains Piers. ”It’s a natural progression. We want to make upbeat dancey pop music”.

Something else they want is success. Dave came close with a former band, The Departure, but they felt the full force of the EMI buyout a few years ago and were dropped by the label. It had a profound effect on Dave who told Beatwolf.com last year that he “went off the rails for about six months after that happened”; but his desire to make it wasn’t diminished. It is something his colleagues share.


”We all want to be hugely successful”, Piers agrees, ”but we believe in the music and we all work very hard for it so it’s not like we are expecting it. Dave is restless. He is a restless character, spend 10 minutes with him and it’s like “How does that guy function?” He is just on all the time and we all share the same passion. But we love what we do; we all get along very well”.

Having built a reputation on a darker, broodier foundation there must be a slight worry then that this new direction could alienate their existing fanbase. Anytime a band tries something new there are always those who will bemoan the change and lambast the artists for not sounding exactly as they did before. “Yeah”, says Piers, ”we’ve had discussions about that and I think it’s natural for a band to progress. I mean, we haven’t released albums and albums so I guess normally it’s slower in terms of progression in the sound like that but I think we know our mind”.

He reassures us that the darkness will never leave the sound entirely; even “Broken” is likely to be rinsed in shadows a little before it is released to the world. “We will never lose that (the darkness). Because we are called Strangers, it needs to be kind of dark and glum”. Of course if they had been called Best Friends, all bets would be off.

The band is currently in the process of writing and recording for a planned album this year as anyone who follows them on Twitter (where they tease us with excited statements of how the process is going) will know. They have already released three EPs so an album is, they feel, the next logical step. There is, Piers says, no set date in mind though, they are currently just recording and playing around with sounds. ”Every time we go into the studio we try and do a song until it is finished, but no, there is no set date. We are just going to write and write and write and see what happens, there is no rush”. He pauses as we challenge him, no rush doesn’t really chime with their level of ambition and hunger for success. ”Well”, he laughs. ”A bit of a rush”.

Track of the Day: “Skeleton” – The Good Natured

13 Jan

We’ve never done a Track of the Day before and to be honest we might not again, but after hearing “Skeleton” we felt compelled to do something. How we managed to miss this song on its release back in June is beyond all here at Alphabet Bands Towers, and we’ve a good mind to remove a limb or two of those who are most likely to be culpable. Thankfully though, a kindly soul posted a link on our facebook page and all is well again.

Like a hyper-active child on a sugar rush, the song just flies along, not once losing an ounce of energy. The drum beats kick along at breakneck speed and Sarah McIntosh’s vocals are both enticing and intimidating at the same time. Never have we heard someone sing about disrobing in such an alluring and frightening manner! This song pushes so many of our buttons its ridiculous. It’s been on repeat for the last hour but since play one it was embedded in our brain. So much so in fact that the next person to attempt conversation is likely to just get the lyrics sang back at them, like an electro-noir-pop Being John Malkovich moment.

Check the video out below, fall in love with the song and then scroll down for details on where to buy it.

You can download the EP from Amazon and iTunes, or get it on 10″ vinyl from Norman Records