MS MR, Romans at The Art School, 8/11/15

As co-founder of Neon Gold records, the independent label that has launched the international careers of artists like Ellie Goulding, Tove Lo and Icona Pop; Lizzy Plapinger has an extremely rare ear for pop sensations.

On record her duo – the titular mister is producer Max Hershenow – have made canny choices, flitting between indie, electropop and flirting with disco and house, but their obvious talent has never quite manifested in a consistently great album.

 

This evening they’re supported by another man who knows his way around the pop music hit machine; having written with Alicia Keys, John Legend and Mary J Blige.

Possessing an enviable soulful croon, Romans sound like a compilation of the smoother end of modern pop from the Michael Jackson-meets-Sam Smith ballad ‘Overthinking’ with its finger click percussion to the Ed Sheeran-like blend of acoustic guitar and electronic percussion on ‘Uh Huh’.

A mashup of the guitar line from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘Otherside’ and The Weeknd’s Max Martin-penned smash ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ offers up something familiar to the audience, before the singer takes the time to showcase ‘Jaded’ the soul-house track he recently penned for Disclosure’s new album Caracal.

Precise but dull electronic drums sap some of the punch that analog instrumentation might have given the music but Romans’ voice is kept front and centre and he holds the audience’s attention with ease.

Best of all is the sky-scraping vocal on ‘Silence’, a swooping ballad that would be a sure fire hit in the hands of Sam Smith or John Newman.

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Earlier this year MS MR followed up their minor indie hit debut, Secondhand Rapture, with the even glossier How does It Feel and there’s definitely a sense that they have their eyes on the biggest stage possible.

Looking like an American Apparel version of Florence Welch, Plapinger is a ball of energy, leaping and clapping across the stage.

Despite spending her early years in London, her American accent is prominent and there’s a brash New York star power as she urges the audience to enjoy themselves.

‘Fantasy’ from their debut record kicks things into gear, while a cheesy, but catchy, exorcism for inner demons on ‘Think About You’ leaves the singer panting and elicits the first roar of the night from the crowd.

The electro pop ‘Criminal’ seems earmarked as a single, getting limbs shaking even if the lyrics are nothing to write home about.

The closest the band get to a leftfield turn is the sexy ‘Dark Doo Wop’, but even if they’re unlikely hipster faves there’s an energy and unselfconsciousness in their performance that’s absent in more measured compatriots like Passion Pit and Purity Ring, that gives the duo and their two backing musicians a real charm.

Plapinger in particular is a talented chameleon, channelling an energetic Studio 54 diva on the new record’s title track, before the slick one-two combo of ‘Bones’ and ‘Hurricane’ draw the set to a close.

More Photos

Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Stewart Fullerton

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