Tuesday, February 7, 2017

About U | MUNA

Spare the relentless synth line lurking in the basement of MUNA's "Crying on the Bathroom Floor" that is purposely reminiscent of Robyn circa Body Talk and the band's fancy for synthesized vocal lines from Imogen Heap's playbook, not much about the Los Angeles-based trio grants direct comparisons. Fusing the best of pop-rock, synthpop, and contemporary alternative R&B without wandering through their contemporaries' narrow field of drum machines and dingy synthesizers, MUNA (like Lady Gaga with ARTPOP, they insist on all caps for their title) rests within a malleable niche that lends itself to every mood of the hour.

Comparisons to the likes of Haim, Tegan and Sara, and Shura have been slugged their way, and the best words that most mainstream journalists can pull out of their hats to describe them are "honest," "dark pop," and "girl band," but the members of MUNA are no more than proud queer women who have stories to share and aren't afraid to wear a rainbow-colored pride on their sleeves while telling them. As an outward hand towards the LGBTQ community, they steer clear of gender-laden pronouns, opting for second-person references to the past love affair that inspired this album.

Largely revealing what was once a comfort found within the waves of a troublesome relationship and an overwhelming sense of loss and indecision when the turbulent cycle is finally smacked off balance, About U follows lead vocalist Katie Gavin as she sways from detachment to false hope before accepting grief, a feeling spurred by a lack of true closure. While the moment of realization, the self-confrontational "Crying on the Bathroom Floor," appears late in the track listing, it's a triumph for a narrator who had placed the entirety of the blame on her own problematic tendencies just one track prior.

Through the sunny highs and the desperate lows of this record, Gavin remains the humanistic constant, gluing the album together. Whether her disposition juxtaposes an energetic backdrop ("Around U," "Loudspeaker") or she is encapsulated in layers of her own synthesized vocal lines ("Winterbreak," If U Love Me Now"), her voice remains a smooth stream of water, rippling as if a light breeze caught it amid multi-note runs. She is at her most exuberant on "I Know a Place," an upbeat tribute to gay dance clubs that found newfound significance in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting and the recent installation of a conservative presidential administration, yet she retains her cool presence to keep the track in line with the album's soundscape.

The scope of this album's sonic horizon stretches from the dusky tones of "After" to the atmospheric euphoria of "Around U" and "End of Desire." In theory, it could seem like an overarching goal of a hyperactive group in a rush to show the world what they're capable of delivering; In practice, though, it's a well-executed display of every emotional turn in the trajectory of an ill-fated relationship. These songs follow the organic fluxes and flows of the story arc, which, while not the clearest an album has ever brought to the table, is more than intriguing enough to pull listeners into MUNA's gaze and lock them there from beginning to end.

About U is out now under RCA Records.

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