Salty Sweet

I like my pop songs like I like my snack foods… or vice versa? There’s a joke in here somewhere. Anyhow. Congratulations if you remember this from 2013. That was the year I was listening to indie radio every day, and Ms Mr were all over it. Exciting times. I don’t know if maybe that was actually the peak for this particular brand of college-radio pop, but it does seem like a lot of the promising stars of 2013 are spinning their wheels now. Or it could be that everything just feels like it’s dragging because we live in a time of implied instant gratification that never comes. We want the next thing to happen right now because we’ve become used to the lightning speeds of the internet, but people aren’t actually moving any faster. We’re still getting more or less the same amount of sleep and it still takes the same twenty-four hours to get through a day. We’re not even that much more entertained.


Ms Mr should be on your radar of very important electropop groups. You might remember me loving their most recent album, way back in 2015. Of course, I’m waiting for whatever may be next. I just really want to observe someone’s career grow and flourish. I want to see that it’s possible to build a long-term career as a mid-level independent artist who works for their fanbase and themselves and doesn’t rely on the corporate machinery that keeps the biggest superstars pumped full of helium. There’s a lot of promising young groups, and inevitably, most of them will most likely throw in the towel sooner rather than later. I’m not making bets on who will or will not thrive, because that’s mean. Rather, I think it’s great that there’s a platform for so many musicians to promote themselves and find a niche and be rewarded, even on a modest scale, thanks to social media and home technology.



How does Ms Mr distinguish themselves from all the other electropop boy/girl duos? That’s a question they may be asking themselves as well. The electropop field is very crowded right now, and it’s hard to call who will be remembered. Between Ms Mr, Wild Belle, Chvrches, Grouplove, Broods, Electric Youth, Savoir Adore and many others, well, it’s a great time to be alive. It’s nice to see so many nice young people making fun music, even if they all kind of look and sound the same. (Which, by the way, can be said of most musical genres at the height of their popularity.) At least Lizzy Plaplinger here has great style and bright red hair, those things alone often being enough to catapult a person to instant fame. Plaplinger isn’t exactly a household name yet, but she could be; she looks like a star.


This was one of my favorites from 2015, if you recall. It doesn’t necessarily stand to reason that just because I’m excited about something when it’s released that I’ll still like it a year or more later. I don’t know if I’ll be holding this record up as a favorite in 2020, but as of right now, I still listen to it on occasion, and I still think Ms Mr are among the better new indie pop duos out there. If nothing else, their hit single Hurricane from 2013 is a classic. This time around they’ve nailed a sound that wouldn’t have been out of place at a gay club in the 80’s, and that’s not faint praise. The fan blogs tell me that ‘dark doo wop’ is a term now, and that’s a new one for me, but yeah, it’s fun pop with a dark side. And I do love a little psychological complexity with my dance pop.


No Guilt In Pleasure

Ms Mr scored a song on my year-end greatest hits the other day, though their album didn’t make the cut. This is another standout from that record, which is very good despite not having made the final cut. (As if these things mattered.) But I do have to point out, that although electropop is a fine genre, this song (and others) would benefit greatly from a mainline injection of some guitars. Imagine how much pumpier it would be. Lizzy Plapinger already has a look that’s halfway between Paris runway and Mars, so she’s got the whole rock star thing in her pocket. Of course, this is a young band with lots of time before them to explore a variety of instruments and directions, and the pop sensibility is working out pretty well for right now.

Best of 2015 II

Part Two. The Songs.

A little extra space for those whose albums didn’t quite make the top cut, or those who didn’t actually release an album. The songs I listened to. A lot. This year.

1. ★ – David Bowie


Nothing casts a longer shadow Blackstar. Released in November, it inspired the kind of fanfare only new stirrings by David Bowie could attract. Of course we didn’t know that it was meant as the artist’s swan song, a parting gift, a characteristically cryptic goodbye. We just thought it was mighty epic. In a season of electrosynth, it’s almost painful and wrong to receive something of this caliber, as a goodbye no less. We’re not worthy.


2. Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King


The naughtiest, sexiest pop confection. So inescapable and so catchy, you almost didn’t notice how subversive it was. Elle King is one of a new breed of smart young pop stars, armed with the message that empowerment is fun.


3. On the Regular – Shamir


This Las Vegas-based new talent combines a soulful countertenor, a love for candy colored disco beats and a playful humor to create what critics have called ‘bubblegum hip hop’. If anyone is going to write this generation’s I Will Survive, it’s gonna be this kid. He’s not quite there yet, but he’s zooming along nicely.


4. New Americana – Halsey


Yeah, it’s a self-conscious, Balenciaga-referencing, portrait-of-my-generation anthem that wouldn’t exist without Royals. But Halsey has greater ambitions than riding Lorde’s coattails for a minute on the pop charts. Her debut was a concept album about an apocalyptic near future of her own invention. She has things to say.


5. Tongues – Joywave


This has actually been stuck in my head since the fall of 2014, and I was waiting to see if Joywave’s debut album lived up to the delirium. It does. This is the best of today’s electric indie pop wave.


6. The Party Line  – Belle & Sebastian


Didn’t Belle and Sebastian used to be known for making sleepy folk music? They’ve been at it long enough to have been a punchline in High Fidelity. But this… This you can dance to. I guess this is a band evolving with the times. Tired of being called twee, they take to electropop.


7. Black Sun – Death Cab For Cutie


Welcome to Ben Gibbard’s big divorce album. It would make a bigger impact if every Death Cab record didn’t sound like a breakup album. The romantic mope is what these guys do best.


8. Lifted Up (1985) – Passion Pit


Passion Pit continues the trend for catchy, New Wave influenced indie pop. There’s been a lot of it lately, mostly of the one hit and out variety, and Passion Pit, with a total of three albums, is looking more and more like a keeper.


9. Leave a Trace – Chvrches


This could be a long lost Cyndi Lauper song, it’s that 80’s. And that’s great. Will Lauren Mayberry grow up to be a similarly iconic figure? Too early to tell, but I’ve been watching Chvrches since their debut a few years ago, and it would be nice if I could continue.


10. 10,000 Emerald Pools – BØRNS


Ok, so maybe Garrett Borns, with his pretentious stage name and sensitive-guy hair, is pure hipster bait. Maybe I’m a sucker for that stuff. Maybe this is a pretty great song.


11. Paranoia – Max Frost


Max Frost is now famous enough to merit his own Wikipedia page, but it’s only a paragraph long. So he’s still got a ways to go before he reaches real fame, but it’s when not if, and when he does, you heard it here first.


12. Painted – MS MR


Just when it seemed like Ms Mr wasn’t going to live up to the promise of Hurricane… This isn’t quite as great, but it’s nice to have them back, and it would be nice to have more fanfare about it.


13. American Oxygen – Rihanna


Rihanna is hardly the first person to use a video montage of iconic images superimposed on an American flag to illustrate a basic political point. We get it, MLK would be aghast at the violence and injustice still being dished out upon a mostly black underclass, and the American Dream is big bust for most of us, etc. (And some viewers might find it objectionable that the singer’s nipples are clearly visible throughout.) But I want to take this as a sign that Rih is beginning to mature into a more serious-minded artist. She has the talent and charisma to become the kind of artist people pay attention to when she has something important to say.


14. Blank Space – Father John Misty


Oh, hey, here’s a novelty song. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll curse the heavens for taking Lou Reed, and you’ll thank Glob that at least we have Father John Misty. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, possibly, Taylor Swift is not entirely a vortex on inanity in human form.