Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is the self-titled third record from MUNA, the band’s debut on Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records.
Even though it came out last September just after Labor Day, the symbolic end to the year’s warmer months, MUNA’s “Silk Chiffon,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, quickly became a 2021 song of the summer. Or, perhaps, the song bursted with so much joy and light that it made some of us believe summer could last forever. We agreed that maybe life is so fun. That simple, soaring chorus (“Silk! Chiffon! That’s how it feels, oh, when she’s on me”) must contain the same chemicals as a first kiss or the scent of your partner’s sweater. It’s too bad they can’t start selling “Silk Chiffon” in a bottle.
The quick virality of the hit ushered MUNA into a new phase of their career, which makes it a fitting opening for their self-titled record. After 2017’s About U and 2019’s Saves The World, the Los Angeles band — made up of Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin — was dropped by their major label and joined Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records last year. Despite their transition to an independent label, MUNA is their biggest album yet, full of shiny new songs of the summer. Eighties dance music and ’90s boy band anthems infiltrate the 11 tracks. And, unlike on their first two albums, the group is at their most optimistic. “It’s a part of what we should be aspiring to as queer people,” McPherson told Pitchfork. “The world is still so mind-bogglingly oppressive for so many in our community that it remains radical to be joyful.”
Just like on “Silk Chiffon,” on which anxiously spiraling in a CVS and feeling lifted on rollerblades are not mutually exclusive, MUNA is filled with nuance. Somber moments feature glimmers of hope; every cheery pop song offers sighs of bittersweetness. On the club-ready “What I Want,” the narrator’s euphoric experience in a gay club implies a time in their life when they didn’t feel as free. With the ethereal “Loose Garment,” Gavin recognizes that grief over a former relationship might never go away, but she can wear it like a flowing piece of fabric, rather than a suffocating choker. Every MUNA line is brutally honest toward themselves, their lovers, the world. It’s the most earnest pop music there is.
Desire grounds MUNA’s music more than ever. “I spent way too many years not knowing what I wanted, how to get it, how to live it and now I’m gonna make up for it all at once, ’cause that’s just what I want,” is chanted like a mantra on “What I Want.” “Handle Me” and “No Idea” stack together like sister tracks. The former’s sprawling guitars tenderly layer over Gavin’s lithe vocals that beg to be handled and touched. “I’m not gonna break, I promise,” she coos. Mitski co-write “No Idea” is like the queer pop equivalent of Liz Phair’s “Flower” (without the sarcasm). As Gavin kisses a napkin to perfect her lipstick, she teases, “You have no idea, the things I think about you when you aren’t here,” over a pumping beat. The band is unapologetically infatuated with a lover on the buoyant, Prince-inspired “Solid,” conveying that the most attractive thing about someone is their self-confidence. “She is not a screen on which you project. She is not a scene on your movie set,” Gavin asserts.
Self-assuredness is what makes MUNA special, too. Although “Anything But Me” is a deceptively upbeat breakup song, it’s even more a declaration of self love: “You say that you need relief / Well, I hope you get everything you need / Everything but me.” “Kind of Girl,” a Chicks and Sheryl Crow-inspired ballad, serves as the record’s centerpiece, with Gavin vowing to redefine the way she speaks to herself. “I could get up tomorrow / Talk to myself real gentle,” she sings in the chorus. “I like tеlling stories / But I don't have to write them in ink / I could still change the end.” MUNA is newly confident about living in the moment, reveling in passion as much as possible and allowing for fluidity when they define themselves for the world and for themselves. Life’s hard, but it’s also so fun. Both can be true at once.
Natalia Barr is a music and culture writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications like Rolling Stone, Interview Magazine, Consequence of Sound, and Crack Magazine. Find her on social media @nataliabarr_.