My Idea is a bit of a misnomer for the project of Lily Konigsberg and Nate Amos. The duo are evidently overflowing with ideas, but as soon as they’ve brought one to their bandmate, it’s no longer their own – they share ideas, expand on them, improve them and ultimately transform them into something that belongs unquestionably to both of them – there’s no ‘my’ in the final product. While that mostly applies to the hyper-creative modern alt-pop sounds that make up their songs, it’s also true of the lyricism. Konigsberg takes the lead on the majority, but there’s a conversational quality and truthfulness that suggests they’ve been born out of charged back and forths between her and Amos – a complicated relationship, to say the least. It gives Cry Mfer a surprisingly deep well of emotion beneath the pristine pop sheen, and while you might come for the hooks, you’ll find yourself staying for the lessons delivered.
Belied by the bright and boisterous exterior, Cry Mfer is an emotional struggle. Throughout, Konigsberg and Amos are constantly singing to a ‘you’ with whom they have a very close but complex relationship – it’s easy to assume that they’re singing to each other, which is often true, but the ‘you’ can also be themselves. It could also be their destructive relationship with alcohol, which was a catalyst for the complications in their personal relationship – something they didn’t realise they were dealing with at the time, but have now come to accept by both going sober.
The duo’s complex personal relationship – a messy combination of friendship, romance and creative partnership – is wrapped up in Cry Mfer from the very beginning, as Konigsberg opens the album on the title track by immediately announcing “I need space / I will be the one to say goodbye this time.” In fact, “Cry Mfer” is one of the colder, more strident songs in the bunch, with a chorus characterised by Konigsberg singing a wincing “ouch” as she accepts that it’s time to move on. While this might be the starting point of the album, My Idea take us further back in time to guide us through the sticky web of emotion that has brought them to this realisation.
“Crutch” finds the duo literally leaning on each other to get through their days – but there’s also joy in co-dependence (in the short term, anyway), which is what shines most from the song. “Silence, sadness, pain, gladness / I’m into all that stuff,” Konigsberg sums up while she and Amos play a bouncing and open-hearted indie strum-along, filled with cooing backing vocals that suggest sheer pleasure. Another excavation of unhealthy behaviours is “Yea”, which strangely combines plinking electronics with chugging guitars in a way that seems to mirror the argument in the lyrics. “I know that I’m right / but you’re sick / and it’s a big, big fight,” Konigsberg sings, trying to keep the emotion underneath, but eventually admits she keeps crying and telling herself she’s better, even though she’s audibly not.
There’s also “Breathe You”, which originated as Amos’ ultra-high attempt to impersonate Justin Bieber, and while his bedroom R&B croon of “something in the way you move just makes me want to suck you up” can be taken humorously, there’s something solemn in the syncopated click and droopy bass. Konigsberg harnesses this sadness as she sings the verses about a relationship crumbling to its conclusion, and thus “Breathe You” flips from smirk-inducing to tear-jerking in a moment, and it’s brilliant.
Amidst these heartbreakers, there are a couple of moments of true levity too – though it might just be a distraction from true turmoil bubbling beneath. The organ-imbued throwback pop bop “Baby I’m The Man” finds Konigsberg completely full of herself, revelling in her imagined plaudits, not giving a shit about what consequences might be just around the corner. These heedlessly happy moments also show off how My Idea can create an irresistible earworm out of nothing; most notably on “Lily’s Phone” where they turn what is a silly answering phone message into a jam-along guitar-groove, filled with burps and slick self-satisfaction.
In the grand scheme of Cry Mfer, these lighthearted moments are infectious illustrations of just how close a relationship Konigsberg and Amos have, which only makes the destructiveness displayed on other tracks hit all the harder. By the time we’re reaching the conclusion of the record, we’re fully invested in their relationship and it becomes tough to hear the one-two punch of Amos’ sad sack “I Can’t Dance Part Two” and Konigsberg’s bruised “Pretty You”, where they each sing about how hung up they are on the other, despite the inherently unhealthy nature of their infatuation.
Fortunately, My Idea come together again to save the day by the end of Cry Mfer. Penultimate track “Popstar” is a bristling and boisterous synth tune where they plough past the emotional strings and focus on what’s important: being there for each other and not fucking up their chemistry, “I don’t wanna cry / I just wanna rock and roll,” Konigsberg affirms. My Idea complete the album with the heart-filling country pop jam “Yr A Blur”, where they take stock of each other’s shortcomings and their messiness, but realise that what they have going on between them is bigger than all of it; “always find a problem / cause I wanna like you more than my friends / something’s wrong / I’ll eat my words and write another beautiful song.” It’s an understated punch-the-air moment that yanks sheer happiness to the surface after a tumultuous set of tracks.
It’s rare to hear a duo so honestly and openly processing their relationship on an album – especially a debut one – but that’s what makes Cry Mfer so special. It’s not the only thing though; Konigsberg and Amos have already proven their songwriting and instrumental prowess in their various other projects, but together they seem to have augmented each other’s abilities. Every song on this record is carefully crafted, and the way they’ve perfectly balanced the intimate bedroom atmosphere with the crystalline sheen of modern mainstream has created a set of unmissable pop pearls. Now that they’ve hashed out their issues across Cry Mfer, it’ll be exciting to see just how much farther they can go with less baggage weighing them down.