opinion byJEAN-LUC MARSH
Synth-pop is a tired beast. A genre that reached its apogee in the eighties demands serious innovation on the part of the artist in order to remain relevant—and riveting—in the internet age. Scandinavia seems to have a monopoly on synth-pop to this day, so no one bats an eye when some new upstart emerges with a catchy track. The secret to success is consistent originality.
Enter MØ. Her debut single, “Maiden,” meshed well with contemporary trends, while displaying some eccentric spark, but was to remain a curious footnote on the long history of synth-pop. However, Karen Marie Ørsted harbored much greater ambitions. In the following year, the hits kept on coming. By the autumn of the same year, the Danish synth maven dropped her Bikini Daze EP, a smash that cemented her status as an ascendant talent and turned No Mythologies To Follow, her debut record, into one of the most anticipated of the new year.
Ørsted’s debut LP wears its history heavily, composed of equal parts previously released and new material. It is a risk for an artist as dependent on earworm shock value as Ørsted, but a deliberate one that yield dividends at the end of the day. She intertwines the two timelines deftly, allowing the old guard to bear the weight at significant junctures that call for a tried-and-true hit (“XXX 88,” “Waste of Time”), while allowing the freshmen class plentiful opportunities to prove its mettle. The oldest cuts, “Pilgrim” and the aforementioned “Maiden,” contrast against the lush production of the more recent work, providing breathing room between sweeping synth epics at the slight expense of continuity, while “Never Wanna Know” remains the irrepressible torch song it always was.
Lead single, “Don’t Wanna Dance,” while an undeniable jam, is uncharacteristic of the album as a whole. It is the sole extant species of a genus underrepresented on No Mythologies To Follow: the mindless pop song.This is Ørsted at her most carefree: high BPM, easily accessible chorus, and Top 40 structures in place; and atypical, something she addressed in a recent interview, explaining that “Don’t Wanna Dance’ is one of the only songs, maybe the only one, which is looking on the bright side of being young, confused and lost in society.”
Elsewhere on No Mythologies To Follow, unease and disorientation lurk, eloquently camouflaged amidst the neon soundscape by clinging to the lyrics. “What am I to do in the city if I can’t have it all and I just want to feel pretty?” asks Ørsted on otherwise-upbeat opener “Fire Rides.” Meanwhile, “Red in the Grey” cites the existential remembrance that “every night was cold,” and references a “house of horrors,” before closing with a caterwaul that declares a desire to “go back to you someday.” Yet, Ørsted refrains from exposing herself entirely, instead opting to cloak these vulnerabilities in riotous cavalcades of synthesizers, strings, and siren songs.
The tempo only slows for “Dust Is Gone,” a mid-album ballad that demonstrates Ørsted’s vocal prowess at the expense of instrumentation. It essentially functions as “Never Wanna Know” 2.0, with heavier strokes of heartbreak, and a greater focus on lyrics such as “Salvation will come and break our hearts,” and “I would’ve liked this to work / But life had other plans.”
Album closer “Glass,” a crash course in stuttering synths, towering crescendos, and concise lyrics, wrapped in equal parts whimsy and weltschmerz, serves as the best introduction to MØ for the uninitiated. Complex and euphoric, it sums up the psychology of No Mythologies To Follow in one fell swoop. “Why do everyone have to grow old?” wails Ørsted over a twinkling array, sounding manic and galvanic at the same time, infusing the question with a desperate, transfixing energy. The turbulence of your mid-twenties never seemed so tantalizing. B+