Album Review: MUNA – MUNA

[Saddest Factory; 2022]

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a full blown war on the LGBTQ+ community underway in the United States – ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills are being introduced in more and more states, as are bills attempting to make it illegal to expose children to drag. As much as a fleeting same-sex kiss in a Toy Story spinoff can trigger an outcry, and everyday seems to bring a new moral panic targeted at the gay and transgender population. To be a Queer person in 2022 is to be exposed to a torrent of bigotry on a nearly daily basis.

That’s why the decision of all-Queer band MUNA to not just unabashedly embrace Queerness, but Queer joy specifically, feels so important. On their third studio album, and first under Phoebe Bridgers’ record label Saddest Factory Records, the trio create 11 synth-pop anthems largely centered around Queer love. But the three never go out of their way to draw focus to the Queer elements of their relationships, with lead singer Katie Gavin employing female pronouns when talking about lovers and exes with an ease that feels almost defiant.

Favouring a micro, rather than macro, focus, these are songs centred on the ecstasy of Queer intimacy, but they’re also sung from a more inclusive, imagined future where Queerness is no longer marganilised and being LGBTQ+ can be exactly as big, or as small, a part of one’s identity as they want it to be. Like the best pop albums, MUNA’s self-titled creates a bigger, bolder, and frankly more fun, universe that welcomes in anyone who needs it.

The best testament to this is the Phoebe Bridgers-assisted lead-single “Silk Chiffon”, that uses the titular fabric as a metaphor for a lover’s touch. The song boasts a euphoric chorus and pre-chorus that, among other things, prove MUNA to be one of the only band’s capable of singing the line “life’s so fun, life’s so fun” without it sounding forced. Such is the sincerity of MUNAs music, amidst a sea of cookie-cutter, plastic pop music. 

MUNA may have rightfully embraced their status as an all-Queer band, but it would be reductive to focus solely on that element of their music. Irrespective of gender identity and sexual orientation, MUNA offers up 11 pristine synth-pop tracks that are close to pop-perfection. Across 39 minutes, the trio move between pure, undiluted synth-pop to string-heavy arrangements to country-charred pop, but every song is compelling and catchy enough that, on most albums, they would be the centerpiece. 

MUNA successfully walks the tightrope that all great pop albums must – that between depth and levity. It’s a concept album, of sorts, tracing a compelling path from the early fluorescence of a blossoming relationship, to the first signs of troubled waters to the eventual dissolution of a relationship and the slow, non-linear process of piecing one’s self together in the aftermath. “What I Want” perfectly captures the bottled up frustrations of life under lockdown and the desire to go out into the world anew (“I spent way too, too, too many years not knowing what / What I wanted, how to get it, how to live it / Now, I’m gonna make up for it all at once”). Second-half highlight “Solid”, meanwhile, feels like a companion piece to “Silk Chiffon” with an earworm chorus of “My baby’s so, so solid” that’s sung with a similar cadence as the chorus of “Silk Chiffon”. But “Solid” employs a subtle glam-rock edge that ensures it doesn’t feel like a retread of already covered ground. 

Doubt approaches and recedes across MUNA’s runtime, first emerging in “Home By Now”, as our narrator is forced to watch an ex’s life unfold from a distance. It’s filled with unresolved questions. “Would we have turned a corner If I had waited?”, Gavin asks at one point; in another moment, she hears that her ex has sold their prized possessions and wonders “if you’re moving or if money’s just that tight”. Reluctantly, she makes peace with not knowing, “These are the kinds of questions to which I’ve resigned my rights”. These are mature songs about love and its aftermath that transcend lazy tropes and predictable conclusions. “Yeah, I like telling stories / But I don’t have to write them in ink”, Gavin sings on “Kind of Girl”, a fitting statement from a songwriter whose lyrics refuse easy categorization. 

It’s on “Anyone But Me” that MUNA find the best synergy between the album’s various emotional states – love, heartbreak, frustration, self-doubt and empowerment. It’s a breathtaking artistic statement, moving in a matter of seconds from better-off-without-you sass (“Well, I hope you get everything you need / Everything but me”) to breathtaking sincerity and good will (“But, it’s all love and it’s no regrets / You can call me if there’s anything you need”). That the band manage to do all of this while maintaining their keen sense of humour (“You’re gonna say that I’m on a high horse / I think that my horse is regular-sized”) is yet more proof of their multi-dimensional talents. 

Arriving at the tail-end of pride month, but at the beginning of Summer, MUNA is the best soundtrack one can find for the next few months. Seemingly destined to join the canon of pop’s great cult-classics (Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion, Robyn’s Body Talk, among them), it’s an album whose legacy should last much longer.