Bedroom pop artist mxmtoon first started getting significant attention at age 18 with her song "Prom Dress," a melancholic but peppy tune about dashed expectations and high school disappointments. Her perky ukulele progressions and hyper-catchy melodies were a huge part of what made the song so popular, and sophomore album rising finds her coming into her own with all of the elements that existed in a rougher form on her earlier self-produced material. Where "Prom Dress" and other songs from mxmtoon's earlier catalog felt at least somewhat culled from personal teenage experiences, rising is decidedly focused on the next chapters of young adulthood. Themes of getting older and life lessons show up on many tracks, coming through especially clearly on "growing pains" and the acoustic-guitar pop of "victim of nostalgia." Mxmtoon both pines for her younger self and worries about the future on these songs but leans into personal change and letting old eras end on the especially hooky synth pop blast "coming of age." Throughout rising, mxmtoon's songwriting and production feels more refined and thoughtful than anything that came before, slowing down and growing more reflective, particularly on midway point songs like "florida." While rising shows growth, some moments are too sugary for their own good. Cloying album opener "mona lisa" sounds form-fit for the soundtrack of an early 2000s romantic comedy, with predictable melodies and dynamics that end up feeling pandering and trite when compared to some of the more vulnerable personal exploration shown later on the album. Other production, songwriting, and arrangement choices have a similarly hollow ring to them, sounding built from a template more than the real feelings they're purportedly investigating. Despite its occasionally saccharine aftertaste, the songs on rising are a solid representation of the conflicted emotional field of the time between adolescence and one's early twenties, and the songs will resonate especially with anyone navigating that tumultuous phase in 2022.
by Fred Thomas