Imagine, if you will, walking into one of the cavernous ruin bars that have famously dotted the streets of Budapest since the Soviet Union’s collapse. An abandoned warehouse that’s become a glittering, strobe-lit maze, it offers room after room of bold, albeit sometimes clashing delights—say, a cowboy bar next to where the Depeche Mode cover band is playing. As you go along your night, all these lights strung about this tombstone of a troubled past give the impression of something silly and strange and over the top and, unmistakably, a little sad. This is a bit what listening to CRY MFER is like.
The first proper LP from duo Lily Konigsberg (of Palberta and solo acclaim) and Nate Amos (Water from Your Eyes, This is Lorelei), My Idea’s CRY MFER follows up on the promise of last year’s That’s My Idea EP. It’s a record bursting at the seams with brash styles and sounds that, despite being all over the map, feel unified by its creators’ obvious glee in committing to whatever musical impulse crosses their minds—be it trance-y synth-pop, folk tunes bordering on alt-country territory, a twee ditty on the piano, or some mixture of these and more.
Well, it’s unified by that and the crucible of bubbling resentment, horniness, self-loathing and infatuation in which the duo formed these songs. The band was in a self-described spiral during the recording, caught somewhere between a volatile codependent entanglement and a bender that left them freshly sober best friends by the end of it. This is right in the listener’s face on a track like “Breathe You,” which Lily describes as singing while “blindingly sad” and “genuinely devastated,” while Nate’s pitched-up voice sounds like an insomniac robot as he croons, “Something in the way you move / Just makes me want to shave my head” and, “Yeah, I know it’s kind of cool but still I fucked this up” over a minimalist take on a slow-jam beat. It’s trying to capture an emotionally raw moment in a way that sounds, in spite of everything I’ve said, kind of fun.
The whole record carries out this admittedly tried-and-true practice of placing dark subject matter within a sound that plays against it. But instead of leaning towards an innocently childish aesthetic, a la the Frankie Cosmoses or Beat Happenings of the world, it embraces a glossy pop sheen. Chorus’d-out guitars light up “Yr a Blur,” icy synth patterns announce “Yea,” and there are enough overdubs and production flourishes on “Popstar” to pass it off as a circa-2000s Max Martin banger filtered through the resourcefulness of an indie budget.
All this is to say that the album peddles bops. And that can’t be said for many indie records whose motifs include existential crises, heartbreak and hurting people you love. It makes for an interesting stance within the typical seriousness of the genre, and finds its clearest expression in the standout track “Crutch,” where Lily sings what could be taken as the thesis for the record: “I’m sorry about this stuff / But it doesn’t really matter that much / That I’m sorry about this stuff.” It’s this tension between feeling regret while wanting to find more than regret to feel—while not quite knowing whether it’s selfish, healing or both—that reverberates through the album.
Whether treating the serious not too seriously is the right way to go about it or not, it does bring about 40-some-odd minutes of refreshingly genre-bending music that only rarely drags. While a few tracks like “Yea” or “Lily’s Phone” might not blend their kitchen sinks of musical ideas together quite as satisfyingly as others, between the many faces My Idea take up on CRY MFER, there’s a relentless playfulness that can’t help but get your head bopping through the pain.
Jack Meyer is a New York-based freelance writer and former Paste intern. When not trying to think of adjectives for sound other than “brassy,” he can be found biking to Wilco through Prospect Park.