Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review: MUNA • MUNA

At the time of this piece’s publication, pop band MUNA’s Twitter biography is a confident self-proclamation: “greatest band in the world.” Their 2019 sophomore album was just as bold, titled Saves the World – which, of course, may resonate with a bit more irony in hindsight, given the events that would occur in the years to follow. But there’s a reason the band gets to speak in such declaratives: Because they’re just that good. As a three-piece synthpop group that was picked up and spit out by the major label machine before becoming the quarterback act of Phoebe Bridgers’ indie imprint, the band finds themselves more, well, themselves than ever. MUNA, their self-titled third record, asserts the idea that their “sad soft pop songs for sissies, angry girls, emo queers, and crybabies” can take vivid, genre-contorting forms without erasing their signatures from the finished product.

Opening their namesake record with “Silk Chiffon,” the sunshiney anthem that proclaims “life’s so fun,” seems like it could be a self-aware farce against MUNA’s modus operandi – and in some ways, one could suppose it is. But it’s exactly the song to fire the starting pistol on a record that begins in a dead sprint: “I want the full effects. I want to hit it hard. I want to dance in the middle of a gay bar,” Katie Gavin demands on “What I Want,” a reckless, heavy-handed dance number that comes in hot on the heels of “Silk Chiffon” and embraces a messy night out. (She and bandmates Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson capture the juicy tabloid era of Paris, Lindsay, and Britney perfectly in its video, too.) And let’s not be mistaken – there’s plenty of emotional mess to be had on this record, just as there was on the previous MUNA records. However, the coping mechanisms are far sharper than they ever were.

There’s plenty of unbridled queer joy and inner peace to be harnessed on this record, too. One listen to “Solid” will bring enough of it to gloss right over the fact that the band describes a girl in the same way that a fisherman would describe his trusted boat. “Kind of Girl” cracks open a country cosplay that carries onto “Anything But Me,” both of which are near-perfect examples of how encompassing a MUNA song can be while accepting solace and strength in being alone. Whether it’s when the pedal guitar cracks off through the skyline on “Kind of Girl” or the glistening synths and pidder-padder drum skitter across “Handle Me,” there are so many small moments to embrace on a record that is full of surprises, cut incredibly taut, and feels as if it’s a complete and untarnished vision from its three creators.

MUNA is available now under Saddest Factory Records.

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