Sunday, October 21, 2018

Forever Neverland | MØ

Once upon a time, MØ was a plain pop artist. Her music relied on the relationship between her deadpan delivery and textured instrumentals. But as her star power grew online, her music's eccentricity and her persona's normality swapped seats. By way of Diplo and MNEK, her music dipped into mainstream appeal. "Lean On" and "Final Song" were the high-beam summer smashes that spearheaded her new mission, but just a short time later, the likes of "Drum" and "Nights With You" already showed fatigue in her effort without an album in sight.

When I Was Young, an unexpected extended play released last year, was a factory reset. As nuanced as her debut album but as explosive as her commercial pop endeavors, the set feigned ignorance toward her flurry of radio singles and conveyed the most natural progression from her early tracks. Following the extended play's lead, MØ's sophomore full-length effort is the catchy, off-kilter pop record that restores her identity and displays natural artistic evolution without alienating the audience she captivated with her popular collaborations.

Whereas No Mythologies to Follow is hackneyed and jagged, Forever Neverland reflects a cleaner, commercialized vision and a Los Angeles state of mind – even if MØ now wants to call her mother and get her ass out of West Hollywood. She and executive producer Stint craft textured instrumentals that are just harsh enough to perk the ear, pounding a flute over a tribal beat like a kid with a brand-spanking new plastic recorder on "Way Down" and pairing a squeaky sample with MØ's vocal crackles throughout "Red Wine," a pulsating tropical collaboration with Empress Of.

She creates powerhouse music without a powerhouse voice; her raspy pipes are often left exposed and tattered, only softened with vocoders and reverb on "Beautiful Wreck," a grooved mid-tempo highlight, and "Blur," a building dance moment. "I Want You" and "Imaginary Friend" are the record's double-underlined pop gems, bleeding overwhelming sexual and emotional exuberance over a new love. Their happiness may be matched only by "Sun in Our Eyes" and "Nostalgia," two essential jams for the end of the summer that are also the first in recent memory to reference nostalgia within a personal frame rather than a cultural one.

There's plenty of escapism behind Forever Neverland, but rather than detachment from reality, it burrows inward. Navigating her late-20-something years, MØ clings to people and memories immediately close to her to drown out a world that is overwhelming turbulent. In doing so, she lights a match beneath her music and dances through her second record; it goes limp only when she delivers its two ballads, "Mercy" and "Trying to Be Good." She displays, and allows listeners to indulge in, a realistic escapism – one that allows us to entangle ourselves in vivid memories that cannot be tarnished, no matter how unforgiving adulthood becomes.

Forever Neverland is available now under Columbia Records.

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