Quick Concert Review: The Joie de Vivre of MS MR

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The emotional planes explored by New York’s MS MR were on full display during their show last night at Washington, D.C.’s Black Cat. Performing as a four-piece, the duo focuses attention upon a relatively rare aspect of American pop music: the emotive power of crescendo. Riding a roller coaster of emotion no doubt felt poignant to a sold out crowd that had in part spent their Sunday afternoon contemplating the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat.

Their sound exists within a rising movement focused upon beauty in its purest forms, most saliently in Lizzy Plapinger‘s pristine vocals. (And, it could be argued, a musical manifestation of the ascendant nature of nerd culture). It’s nearly impossible to hear them without mentally referencing the soaring inflections of Florence Welch, and nearly impossible to avoid goosebumps when she rapidly rises in the register before suddenly releasing a phrase into the ether.

MS MR employs various forms of musical chiaroscuro at the core of its stylistic approach. Max Hershenow‘s atmospheric synth sounds are Plapinger’s primary counterpoint, and vigorous drumming is also supplemented by an electric bass, often filtered through various effects to create wide-ranging sounds of little relation to the instrument’s usual bailiwick. And, all together, the combination creates loops of tension and catharsis that are deeply unsettling one moment and brilliantly sublime the next.

The best songs on this night relied upon one of two features. Either, they were those where vocal-centric compositions made empowering statements that resonated with the slightly female-majority room (see: “No Trace”), or, they were ambient, orchestral numbers steering the audience towards dance-ability (see: “Salty Sweet”). Their madly appropriate version of LCD Soundsystem‘s “Dance Yrself Clean” was undoubtedly the set’s apex. In no small part, that can be attributed to the emotionally explosive track’s strong metaphorical relevance to MS MR’s thematic sensibilities.

But above all, the best part of the evening was the pure joy displayed by Plapinger whenever she perceived audience affirmation (which was often). Her infectious enthusiasm formed the basis of the evening’s theme: joy. Even in songs exploring the darker side of experience — especially in those instances, actually — there was an obvious exorcism of the demons described therein. And, ultimately, the inherent empowerment associated with acknowledging, addressing, and overcoming life’s difficulties is both MS MR’s true accomplishment and half the point of pop music, itself.

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Behrnsie has a love for music that dare not speak its name. He attends many shows and can often be found counting out the beats for no discernible reason. He played alto saxophone in his middle school jazz band, where he was best known for infuriating his instructor when it was revealed that he played everything by ear, and could not in fact read music. He takes great pride that this is the same talent/affliction that got Tori Amos kicked out of the Peabody Academy. He does not live in his parents’ basement….except during the holidays.