When I was able to interview Danish alt-pop singer MØ earlier this month, she told me that the pandemic struck at a strangely opportune time for creating her latest project. Exhausted from seven years of associating with musical megastars and touring all over the world, MØ had planned to take a break, rediscover her passion for creativity instead of chasing the next big hit, and venture into some more mature, relevant themes after mining the lyrical depths of nostalgia and youth for far too long. The result is an album that still reflects her upbeat, anthemic pop thrills – bolstered by the slightest of experimental quirks to set her apart and her instantly recognizable crackling, yearning vocal performances – but lyrically takes aim at the grinding machine of celebrity culture that she escaped from and the egotistical figures that populated it. On Motordrome, MØ shows that she doesn’t need anyone else’s help to pen her typically catchy hooks. As usual, her music isn’t always the most memorable, and not every one of her quirks connects, but this is a nicely concise 10-track collection of anthems with no filler to be found.
The project opens with its most overt pandemic song in “Kindness,” which essentially functions as an opening toast to the fans for continuing to show their support through uncertain times – both in terms of the globe and MØ’s career. The track lyrically finds MØ stuck at home, feeling the love pour in through her computer screen as she sings over an orchestral trap soundscape with regal-sounding violins. MØ’s penchant for great pop melodies is certainly needed at the moment – the pre-chorus in particular stands out as a great, uplifting and motivational pop melody as she steadily ascends the scales before a celebratory chorus. There’s a reason Dua Lipa and The Weeknd were so successful in shifting the global sound with their upbeat disco mixes right as the pandemic struck, and there’s certainly some influence from that sonic realm on Motordrome as well. Due to MØ’s unique vocals and ambition, however, she manages to adapt the trends to her own purposes. The song “Live to Survive” continues the theme of pushing through and staying strong in the face of adversity, as she adopts a classic-sounding Eurodance bouncy bassline, huge drum hits and twinkling synths and a big, echoing vocal on top that still can’t drown out her gritty, scratchy tone – it works so well here, because it sounds like MØ is fighting for her life. The bridge is a standout moment, as MØ speeds up her vocals for an engaging rhythmic contrast with the pounding four-on-the-floor beats.
Unbeknownst to many, MØ actually got her start in a punk band back home in Denmark. As she moves away from the massive pop hits with EDM superstars, tracks like “Wheelspin” and “Youth Is Lost” really show that her punk spirit never really died as they bring a little more of an edge than usual to these anthemic pop tracks. “Wheelspin” is built on a somber, folksy and minor-key acoustic loop that could easily be found on an alt-rock track, but MØ adds her usual genre-bending twist as she adds a massive, doubled-up drumbeat that still fits. Over ghostly backing vocals, she gives the most emotional vocal performance on the album as she laments the distance between who she was and who she wanted to be, finding herself stuck in a rut career-wise. These are the kinds of moments when coming in just under the note is a good thing – it adds so much believable exasperation as she really lets her squeaks and eccentricities reign supreme. “Youth Is Lost” keeps that vocal energy up, with a mournful, dead-eyed tone – the downtrodden and desensitized attitude that MØ triumphantly fights through on other tracks. Her vocals do push the enjoyment factor slightly on this one, even adding some jarring enraged and screaming passages out of nowhere, but it certainly makes thematic sense. In between these two tracks is “Cool To Cry,” where MØ celebrates having these big feelings instead – it means she’s making progress. With some metallic clangs and a little dubstep energy, MØ saves it from being dated by adding some glitchy aspects and what sounds like a futuristic synth made to emulate a detuned flute, bringing her much closer to hyperpop than the Diplo tracks she used to be on. MØ delivers a standout chorus as she moves up and down the scales with soulful ease and closes the track out with a grinding and industrial instrumental passage.
The album’s best run of tracks actually shows up just past the halfway point. “New Moon” is the latest single, and with good reason – it’s another highly 80s-influenced track, and it sounds like an international hit in the making. MØ’s vocals are youthful, charming and summery as she cuts out the toxic energy and celebrates moving on over a rubbery bassline, massive synth cascades and infectious descending drum hits. The speedy chorus gives off a similar energy to one constructed entirely out of chopped-up vocal samples, but MØ is actually just bounding all over the melodic landscape and proclaiming that she’s “over” all who have wronged her. “Brad Pitt,” another former single, finds MØ at her most romantic and passionate, her genuine vocals making it a believably dedicated and fully enamoured love letter delivered through a warm and inviting pop melody. It’s built to be played in a movie scene where lovers lock eyes across the room of a club and feel the undeniable pull towards each other, topped off by a breathy, head-over-heels bridge and an evocative, roaring guitar solo. Of course, MØ had to reserve at least one track about youth, but rest assured – it’s pretty fantastic. “Goosebumps” is one of the most minimal tracks here, but it’s all the more of a showcase for her voice. Reaching up to her highest notes, it’s a passionate and touching ode to a perfect young love that still gives her goosebumps to think about.
The track “Hip Bones” is the only one here that feels like it doesn’t stake out its own claim, feeling cobbled together from some of the elements we already heard in other tracks. Although the track does have some of the poetic imagery and unique lyrics that we know her for, the track does contain the album’s weirdest transitionary moment – it almost feels like it shifts between minor and major keys – and makes her big, shouty belts feel not as earned. Luckily, things close out on a powerful note with “Punches,” which could basically be categorized as a rock song. Over a blazing guitar riff and some psychedelic, echoey vibes, MØ lyrically nods to sense of various forms of unrest in these times and vows to “roll with the punches.” The album fades out with impressive drum fills and a rock-inspired jam session.
MØ’s latest is a long way from the sugary pop of her last project, 2018’s Forever Neverland, but she retains some of its best elements and combines them with some of her most audacious instrumental decisions yet. Now out from under the watchful eye of big labels and a certain DJ recently outed as a massive creep, MØ is ready to take her weird and wonderful self into a more exciting future.
Favourite Tracks: New Moon, Brad Pitt, Live To Survive, Goosebumps, Cool To Cry
Least Favourite Track: Hip Bones