When, in 1972, David Bowie's 'Starman' implored the powers that be to: "let the children use it/let the children lose it/let all the children boogie" he was surely suggesting that it is the inalienable right of disenfranchised youths to dance themselves euphoric every so often. Countless artists before (and since) have understood the act of dancing to be a form of self-empowerment. After taking their brooding brand of electropop on the road following the release of their debut album, New Yorkers MS MR have also made movement their objective.

The duo--producer Max Hershenow and vocalist Lizzy Plapinger--recently released their sophomore record How Does It Feel, an unabashed collection of dancefloor-ready tracks. "We found that we wanted to dance onstage, we wanted to move," says Hershenow. "We wanted to make music that really punched through and hit people, and made them want to dance with us. This record is a lot about bringing that to the forefront."




The vast majority of How Does It Feel came to fruition last summer in what Hershenow calls the pair's "gross little studio" in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighbourhood. Recording was a process of refinement and self-discovery for both band members, neither of whom had been in a serious musical outfit prior to forming MS MR. Plapinger is, of course, one of the co-founders of Neon Gold Records, the boutique label famous for launching the debuts of Passion Pit, Ellie Goulding and Marina & the Diamonds, among others. Despite her evident passion for pop, Plapinger expressed some initial doubt in her own creative abilities. "I'd never really sung in front of anyone before singing in front of Max," she declares. "So much of this project has been about me finding my voice, literally and figuratively."

MS MR's debut LP, Secondhand Rapture, was effectively a compilation of the first songs the pair had written together. This time around, they're more confident, and it shows in the pared-down quality of their production and approach. "By the time we came down to sit and work on How Does it Feel we were better musicians. I was a better vocalist--I had more range to play with. Max was a better producer," reveals Plapinger. "I think it was about emphasising that as much as possible on the record and not sort of shrouding everything in an intentional haze."




"I feel like on the first record there was sort of an intentional atmosphere and haze, and that was something that, sonically, I think we were drawn to at the time. I think part of that was our naiveté with the technology that we were using and the confidence we had in our skills," Plapinger explains. "There is something really powerful about, on this record, really drawing people's attention directly to the instruments that we were using and the songs that we were writing...making it as articulate as possible."

Granted, How Does It Feel doesn't offer much in the way of sweeping sentiments on self-actualisation; it's more microcosmic than that, with Plapinger turning her lyrical gaze onto herself and her relationships. MS MR has always been attracted to the darker side of both the sonic and thematic spectrums, but while Secondhand Rapture touted a slick, synth-infused brand of wallowing, the band's follow-up is brimming with forward momentum. Plapinger claims it presents a "more mature relationship to inner turmoil. There are so many songs on the record about trying to stay true to yourself and push yourself forward."




Acceptance and self-love are the driving elements behind MS MR's ethos and, refreshingly, they practice what they preach. The pair is planning to donate a portion of proceeds from their fall tour to the Third Wave Fund--a gender justice activist group advocating for young women of colour, trans, queer, and intersex individuals. To Hershenow, this is simply part of their responsibility as public figures, not cause for valorisation. "For us, even as a new band, it's important that we use our platform--however limited it is--to bring attention to the causes that we feel are important." He believes that the organisation's work "feels like a good extension of our message as a band of self-empowerment and individuality."




Admittedly, the duo doesn't directly address social justice topics in their songs; Plapinger is (rightly) wary of "talking to someone else's narrative." Instead, she hopes that her open-book lyrical honesty resonates with a wider audience. 'Wrong Victory' is a brief foray into downtempo territory on How Does It Feel, with Plapinger showcasing her (wholly relatable) vulnerable side. She sings: "when your skin doesn't feel like home/ and I don't wanna break down and feel alone/this body only knows/how to hold back more than it shows." Her heart-on-sleeve approach to songwriting is a relatively new development for the group. "On the first record, sometimes I found inspiration from literature or from film," she explains, "and one of the challenges to ourselves was to make this a much more personal and stripped-back record. I don't really think I know any other way to write, except from the heart."

Discover: Photo Essay, MS MR by Flore Diamant