For anyone who has been waiting too long to get out of the house and into the sun, Muna has delivered a shimmering queer soundtrack for the rest of the summer. Easily their strongest album yet, Muna (★★★★☆) is as intimate and relatable as their best work, but on this outing, they are more energetic, celebratory, and outwardly confident than they have ever been before.
The L.A.-based trio’s third album opens with last year’s “Silk Chiffon,” a track that NPR aptly called a “queerworm” in their roundup of 2021’s best songs.
It couldn’t have hurt that their runaway hit was collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers, whose Saddest Factory Records label they signed to after being dropped by their previous one, a pivot that by all accounts is working out pretty well for them. “Silk Chiffon” easily became their biggest song to date, and it’s probably fair to say it built a lot of hype for the upcoming album outside their already devoted fanbase.
Given its incredible popularity, the lead single might be the track that is least representative of the direction Muna takes on the self-titled album. “Silk Chiffon” may be a captivating song that shows off their gift for pulling a listener in with beautiful harmonies and a sweet, aching honesty and frankness, but its slow, dramatic build and the foregrounding of Bridgers’ vocals makes it something of an outlier compared to what comes next.
The whiplash-inducing second track, “What I Want,” upends expectations with its aggressive synths, relentless hooks and a sense of reckless abandon.
Playing with the very queer idea of bursting forth in a riot of color, motion, and desire after a period of stagnation, the song has several ear-catching lyrics, but the lines “I want to dance in the middle of a gay bar / There’s nothing wrong with what I want” stands out as much for Katie Gavin’s delivery as its content.
It is emblematic of the subtle and overt queerness that runs through the record, which ranges from aggressively gay content to more oblique sapphic yearning. Muna is a stellar pop album by any standard, but that queer sparkle adds an extra layer of charm and is one more thing that makes is a truly special record.
Muna seems to have a newfound gift for turning out a hit, and “What I Want” is far from the only banger. “Solid” is an earwormy ode to longing and lovesickness that manages to drip with sincerity over dense, incredibly catchy arrangements. The grinning, flippant “No Idea” was co-written with Mitski, and the track has her fingerprints all over it.
It is a confession of feelings that is anything but straightforward, delivered in a paradoxically casual, swaggering tone that makes it sound almost more like a dressing-down than an admission of love.
They land another standout with “Anything But Me,” one of those breakup anthems that says, “don’t worry, I’m fine without you, and you’re gonna be fine without me.”
Muna is nothing if not versatile, and despite the confidence and boldness they display on this outing, the three of them still have plenty of sadness and trepidation to go around. The delicate mid-album track “Home By Now” opens with a litany of what-ifs, delivered with a frank sense of remorse over a synthy bear.
The vaguely-Swfity “Kind Of Girl,” meanwhile, features a gentle acoustic backing that makes the self-aware vulnerability and the barn-burner chorus land that much stronger.
As if to gently temper the joy and optimism of “Silk Chiffon,” the closing track, “Shooting Star,” bookends the album on a similar note of falling for a new lover. It comes with a sober recognition that this time, things might not go as planned, that they might not last even if they did, and that this yearning could easily end in heartbreak.
Much of the album’s genius is in how Muna expertly weaves together the many shades of joy, desire, anxiety, and regret, repeatedly returning to the same well, but always with a different result. An approach that might come across as scattered in the hands of a less focused and capable group instead comes together to make a gorgeous and layered album that’s capable of slowing down without ever once getting boring.
It is not for nothing that they have been a cult favorite since at least their 2017 debut, but with this album, their star finally seems ready to rise.
Muna is available to stream and purchase now. Muna will be touring the U.S. starting at the end of July. Visit www.whereismuna.com.
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