opinion by JEAN-LUC MARSH
You thought you had MØ all figured out. Scandinavian pedigree? Check. Catchy pop ditties? Check. Everything lined up perfectly. Karen Marie Ørsted was to be yet another in a long string of sonic exports from a frost-encrusted region overflowing with native talent. Then she dropped Bikini Daze, and any preconceived notion of cookie-cutter synth-pop stardom evaporated in a bright blaze of unbridled potential. It was apparent from the onset that Ørsted was extremely proficient at crafting oddball tunes that pulse with an off-kilter vitality, but what never met the eye was the Danish siren’s propensity for balladry and knack for poignant moments. The secret is out now, and with Bikini Daze, MØ has one eye on the dance floor and the other on your heartstrings.
The side of Ørsted that is most overt is that of the confident ringleader of a sonic circus who comes out to play on “XXX 88” and “Dark Night.” The former is a riotous, Diplo-engineered cavalcade of layered synthesizers and background shouts sprinkled with hints of trap and anchored by entrancing wails. The latter erupts from a hypnotic opening sequence into a brass-driven electronica anthem. Despite being thoroughly synthetic in composition, “Dark Night” sounds utterly primal, particularly the final twenty seconds in which Ørsted delves into lupine yelps over a growling bass line and slowly retreating instrumentation. In both tracks, her gangster alter ego emerges, commanding the floor with a detached swagger, and coaxing out the most avant-garde maneuvers in that interpretive dance routine you have saved for when no one is around.
However, it is the antithesis of this confident chanteuse, the vulnerable obverse of Ørsted’s psyche revealed on the remaining two tracks, which is most engrossing. The breakup jam to end them all, “Never Wanna Know” finds her bitterly mourning a former flame. Yet, if “Never Wanna Know” is a revelation of some weakness, “Freedom (#1)” is Ørsted at her most exposed. Unshackled from the infectious subterfuge of her previous oeuvre, her voice is given room to expand to its full potential in soaring harmonies over little more than a piano. It is a passionate four minutes that reaches its pinnacle in her pained exclamation of “Come on my love, let’s set the world on fire,” during which the final words ascend to a celestial falsetto in one of the most heartrending performances of the year.
While Ørsted could have slapped together a solid EP from the already excellent cuts in her repertoire, she ambitiously went rogue on Bikini Daze. The result is a record that stands at the crossroads between assurance and insecurity. In the hands of lesser artists, this dichotomy would be an obstacle to surmount, but for Ørsted the disparate strands of her identity combine like a binary chemical cocktail and ignite into something dangerously and delicately sublime. Time will tell whether this emotional divide is bridged in future efforts, but with a debut of this caliber, that might not be necessary. Your move, MØ. [B+]