MS MR // Secondhand Rapture // May 14, 2013 // IAMSOUND
Give any mainstream trend that you would otherwise scowl at enough time to bloom and die. Then wait. Sooner rather than later there will surely be some independent songwriters trying to make it their own. Well, they may say that it’s their attempt to make it their own but we see is as an attempt to score some cash from the trends that are no longer as uncool as they used to be. MS MR, a New York based duo, are toying with electropop influenced, dark baroque pop. Now we are happy for them and everything but simply by listening to and watching their career trajectory so far brings out the cynic in even the most patient of us.
Without beating around the bush, let’s just face the fact that MS MR sounds more or less exactly like Florence + The Machine. Here at SOP we never had a thing against Florence and her gang. We even named her brilliant Ceremonials LP as one of the best records of 2011. but that is simply because her mother nature like voice has always been backed up with stellar instrumentation which made for some inspirational music that managed to sound naturally huge. At the same time, there’s a large amount of people who didn’t buy into her coffee table pop which dealt in grace before the pure primal energy which she was supposed to translate. MS MR are a group with an idea of what they want to sound like but as songwriters without budget, they are out of their league and their debut record Secondhand Rapture features a dozen of indie coffee table songs that lack the primal spirit, the outlandish energy to turn them into anything else than somewhat bland copies of music which biggest selling card was its artfully beige stance against blandness.
To further insult everything that MS MR stand for, they are one of those groups that started out as an anonymous bunch, leeching off the hype thanks to the way they market themselves rather than the songs they were offering. The couple of tracks that they did offer before this record end up here and, surprise, they are among the highlights. Hurricane and Fantasy are the better moments that combine this tribal baroque pop with both darkness and fun. Majority of the record sadly puts on a mask, pretending to be more than it actually is. MS MR are imaginative with their song structures and very few songs on here follow your average verse-chorus structure. This opens the door for some experimentation and a possibility for the duo to create their own image burned in sound rather than marketing. That opportunity is wasted as while songs like Dark Doo Wop and Ash Tree Lane act in peculiar ways that are certainly interesting, they don’t exactly challenge the listener. The most memorable part about them are the gullible vocalisations that are simply dumb. There’s a difference between being able to craft something catchy yet experimental and simply coming across as unfocused. In MS MR’s case, they really weren’t trying hard enough when it came to their music.
If an artist is supposed to start out with a blank canvas and then create their own original picture which may or may not end up being similar to one painted by someone before them, then MS MR have started with the picture of Florence + The Machine and then figured that it’s as good as it’s going to get. Not to undermine their own abilities too much as the music is well produced for an indie record and while limited, songs like the previous singles and the bouncy Think Of You are enjoyable on their own merit. So while as songwriters MS MR are not as gullible as their approach to influences would lead you to think, there’s simply not getting around the fact that Secondhand Rapture takes the word “derivative” to the next level. Like, if Ms. Welch sued them, you wouldn’t even think of her as a crazy bint. The mediocrity of MS MR isn’t offensive but you may as well just sacrifice that little bit of your cool and get Ceremonials, an album that features exactly the same sound but deals in songs that are more emotional, more colourful, more vivid and just bursting with life compared to bargain bin emotions of Secondhand Rapture.
Mikal Cronin // MCII // May 7, 2013 // Merge
From the carefully crafted likes of Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra to the riotous garage kids like Ty Segall or Thee Oh Sees, USA seems to have a thing for shitty rock artists that do little more than bland covers of previous generation’s classics. Is this what rock music has been reduced to? Nostalgia for the times that weren’t even experienced by the artists themselves firsthand? Does every new promising rock artist have to “remind” anything of something? So while you may think that the worthless “born in the wrong generation” pieces of shit are nothing but a Reddit phenomenon, the same attitude is keeping rock music from getting on with the times. At this point calling Mikal Cronin a cunt would be like kicking a disabled man. We don’t think he can help it. He’s just American.
Cronin is part of that American clique that put emphasis on quantity over quality. He already released numerous records on his own and as part of other bands, including the legendary piece of shit himself Ty Segall. This explosive rate of output is clearly destructive when it comes to any sort of artistic input from Cronin. His music is little more than a pastiche of amateur college rock and embarrassing power pop. His lyrics paint him as a teenager filled with doubt and other generic problems that people have when they’re 17 (he’s 27) but it’s pretty hard to take Cronin’s word as advice or a relieving hug from an old friend. He is absolutely voiceless and even though with this new breed of American indie rock identity is secondary and sounding exactly like someone before you is encouraged, it’s hard to take Cronin’s personal tales with any interest. He just sounds so mediocre. With Foxygen at least you could point at them and shout “Rolling Stones dick gobblers”. Cronin is so MOR you can’t even remember a singular artist to compare him with despite his sound being immediately recognisable.
Needless to say, the sounds that he combines here are incredibly dull and predictably fashionable. Sure, there are big and stupid choruses on tracks like Weight and Shout It Out that were universal then as they are now but by the time you get to the country tinged Peace Of Mind, you really realise just how uninspired MCII is. With other country revivalist rock acts in 2013 like Deerhunter or The Men, at the very least you get the passion and the edge to come along with it. MCII on the other hand is way too polished, almost cynical considering that this is a Ty Segall’s band member we’re talking about. If we were still living in the 80s, this sort of record would be coming out on a major label. Even when a track like Change offer a chorus that is easy to get excited about, the recording is just so flat and lifeless that the bridge, which features a flurry of strings trying to convince the listener that something great this way comes, just feels unnecessary. The hooks on here aren’t bad but while Cronin definitely has an idea of what he wants to do, his Californian pop pastiche runs dry even before he starts singing the back up vocals for himself.
MCII is a power pop record lacking any kind of power. It’s an album that begs the listener to care about the protagonist and his stories but Cronin is so average and uninteresting that every time he claims that he’s bored and tired, it almost comes across as a joke. His melodies, while not bad, are basic power chord stuff which is beyond exhausted. The best you can hope is that Cronin reminds you of some great track that you haven’t heard in years but he’s his sound is so done to death that it goes past the referential into by numbers. Seriously, give this guy a funny music video and see that he has less skill and personality than OK GO.
Cocorosie // Tales Of A Grass Widow // May 27, 2013 // City Slang
All music is subjective and we’d go as far as to say that all sound is a form of music. Some of it is intended to be pretty, part of it is confrontational. This “indie” music that we’ve been dealing with for most of our lives is but a drop in the ocean. But when you dedicate your life to the sound, you want to do something that would deliver pleasure, emotional or material. Cocorosie is one of those acts who really confront the listener when it comes to expectations about what a female experimental folk duo should be doing. For those of you who are new to this unit, you’ll be filled in shortly. To those who are currently going “gee, I wonder what does the new Cocorosie album sounds like”, all we have to say is, somewhat conformist.
Cocorosie are as despised as they are loved for their art and their image. All of this before we even get to talk about their music. Their brand on somewhat medieval influenced freak folk was a pretty weird prospect back in the mid noughties. Compared to this, the rest of the New Weird America movement may as well be model republicans for all you care. The duo certainly do not come across as humans that you would like to connect with. The Casady sisters got rich parents who made them quit school just so they could be “artists” too. With all that money at their disposal they still choose to record their albums in ridiculous locales. And then on top of that, they give their records atrocious sleeves that are as painful to look at as they are embarrassing to explain. All of this brings us to their fifth studio effort Tales Of A Grass Widow. This particular collection of songs, relatively speaking, features a bigger emphasis towards the song as something that possesses a possibility to be catchy and enjoyable without requiring the listener to be a transgender farmer.
For long stretches of their career, Cocorosie didn’t see music the way we do. They took part in what felt more like theatrical performance art lacking the obligatory imagery. What’s more, their lyrics and their image is confrontational to the point where it dares the listener to fully hate the sisters. Tales Of A Grass Widow, being much more melodic than some of their previous albums, goes some way to make amends. The hip hop influence here is much more pronounced and some of the patterns on tracks like Villain and Gravedigress are pretty generic stuff that you hear on the radio all of the time. In this band’s case, this is a good thing. Then there’s some more traditional folk stuff, like Roots Of My Hair, another result of what sounds like an unhealthy obsession with Vashti Bunyan. Mostly though, for all the hi-art the record surrounds itself with, it’s still little more than an overly tryhard tribute to Björk There’s the must have Antony Hegarty collaboration on the pretty awkward Tears For Animals. And of course there’s the vocals, which feel less faux-French and more faux-Icelandic by the minute. Worst of all is the limitations that sisters possess as singers. Their Björk lite vocalisations were interesting when music matched it. In the context of a pop record like Tales Of A Grass Widow, this is little more than an awkward display of inability to transform and adapt.
The weirdest thing is, Tales Of A Grass Widow isn’t even that bad of a record. It takes the shameless Medulla beatboxing and farming on acid folk instrumentals to craft some actual songs with a sense of purpose and a direction. Some moments, like Gravedigress and Child Bride are good in a pop song perspective of things. At the same time though, this conformist stance that the record adopts makes its weirder moments sound simply bad. With a lesser emphasis on 80s synth pads, a song like Far Away could’ve been one of their traditional 2deep4u moments. On this record, these moments act as evidence that Cocorosie, for all their artist freedom, are atrocious songwriters. Villains for example feels like the sort of crime against humanity that the recent Tegan & Sara album was full of. In a way, Tales Of A Grass Widow is up there with Grey Oceans as Cocorosie’s most user friendly record. At the same time, it’s safe, the sounds used here are tired and the songwriting is rarely above average. In short, you no longer want to punch these two, but you’d still piss on them.