The ideal summer soundtrack…

Sexy, summery, AND synthy? We’re sold.

LA-based outfit MUNA have touched down with a third sensational LP, the first under Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records. The self-titled ‘MUNA’ proffers an utterly queer celebration of synth, orbiting around themes that feel a natural progression from their sophomore release, ‘Saves the World’. Yet, opting for a self-titled record, it feels like MUNA are reintroducing themselves. Although happier, with even more emotional maturity, and perhaps having attended a substantial amount of therapy, the red raw heart of their previous two records still remain.

The kings of synth began their newest era (and their newest album) with sugary pop bop ‘Silk Chiffon’ featuring Phoebe Bridgers. The most addictive of love songs, ‘Silk Chiffon’ conjured a gloriously queer taste of summer during the particularly despondent September 2021. Whether due to the cult classic ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ theme, or the Phoebe Bridgers uncharacteristically smiling / wearing pink cameo, the track’s official video skyrocketed on YouTube, and currently sits at a cool 1.3 million views. Like the video’s inspiration, ‘Silk Chiffon’ has quickly become a fan favourite for the band’s dedicated live audiences. (From personal experience – it bangs live).

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‘MUNA’ avoids the upfront melancholy of the band’s debut ‘about u’ – the sort of audible art which is wonderful if you need a big, cathartic cry-dance. ‘MUNA’ is a gentler companion serving a different purpose, instead provoking quiet reflection. Moments of sadness are still there, but they’re not always immediately apparent. ‘Home By Now’ is perhaps the best example of this teeter into dejection. The band’s most recent single ruminates on retired relationships, synths circulating around hypotheticals and past decisions detailed through lead singer Katie Gavin’s silky smooth vocals. The accompanying visualiser (created by Rena Johnson) depicts lyrics juxtaposing domestic objects eviscerated from their home. The video serves as a reminder of how one remembers the past: perhaps favourably, in fragments, aided by tangible memories left behind.

As always, MUNA are sharing their learnings with a grateful listenership. But this time around, they’re exploring emotions at a distance, rather than relaying from inside the hurt. It feels like a self-help tactic – elements of which appear frequently throughout the record. Classic MUNA, making us all feel things and work on ourselves.

Bouncy synths with an 80s flair are reawakened in post-pandemic queer anthem ‘What I Want’, and the electronic fantasy of ‘No Idea’ feels reminiscent of their debut’s ‘So Special’. Here, percussive blasts of synth evoke waves of noughties pop – sexy and liberated, à la Britney or *NSYNC.

The band have also built a name for themselves by delving into country pop. Album 2’s ‘Taken’ feels like the older sibling of ‘MUNA’s ‘Kind Of Girl’ – a narrative on breaking negative patterns to write your own destiny. And of course, in true MUNA fashion, there’s a bridge with harmonies stacked high and heavenly. Guitar surges forward in both ‘Kind of Girl’ and another of the record’s highlights – ‘Anything But Me’. Opening with a verse detailing an equestrian lexical field astride huge synths, it’s clear MUNA aren’t horsing around.

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The album’s crisp production could only ever be the brainchild of Naomi McPherson, whose beats reign supreme throughout the project. With each release, McPherson’s pushes the envelope further with synths fissuring organic textures, modified to compliment exploding kicks. The instrumentation is surprising at times, such as the house-garage-esque percussion of ‘Runner’s High’, or the rousing string section of ‘Loose Garment’ that responds to bubbling electronics. But it all seems to work, as each track orbits the MUNAverse. All remain within MUNA’s introspective synthy galaxy, magnetically drawn together.

The triad is complete with the band’s lead guitarist Josette Maskin, who explains of the album: “What ultimately keeps us together, is knowing that someone’s going to hear each one of these songs and use it to make a change they need in their life. That people are going to feel a kind of catharsis, even if it’s a catharsis that I might never have known myself, because I’m fucked up.” McPherson adds, “I hope this album helps people connect to each other the way that we, in MUNA, have learned to connect to each other.”

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MUNA love to explore the nitty gritty of human emotion – unearthing feelings and uniting listeners by uncovering revelatory experiences hitherto unknown. The trio’s eager fanbase can definitely look forward to a few more “personal attacks” on this record. Potential deep cut ‘Shooting Star’ is one such track. “I’m laughing cause I know I only just met you / but you’re already spanning skylines inside of my mind,” croons Gavin with sincerity, whilst U-Haul lesbian listeners avert their eyes. The song metaphorizes addictive destructive relationships as a shooting star: both at their safest when kept at a distance. This cosmic soundscape dangles spacey synthesisers and underlying pulsating percussion that builds to coming-of-age-movie prog-rock guitar, concluding with a modified nursery rhyme chanted like a mantra of endurance.

‘Shooting Star’ first appeared an intriguing choice for the record’s closer, but upon deeper reflection (is this what you wanted, MUNA?) the track rounds up the album nicely with the pedagogy of a painful lesson learnt. Listeners are left considering their own shooting star. The album often feels interactive in this way – like therapy, encouraging participants to grow alongside the band.

MUNA are still our favourite three-piece queer band making music straight from their giant hearts, but they’re offering something new with ‘MUNA’ – evolving, inspiring, and taking us along for the [horse] ride. We can’t wait to see where they corral us next.


Word: Gem Stokes

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Source: https://www.clashmusic.com/reviews/muna-muna