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Friday, Feb. 23
The Indiana Daily Student

arts music review

COLUMN: MUNA embraces the complexities of joy with third album

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At a quick glance, MUNA’s self-titled album — their third album and their first on Phoebe Bridgers’s Saddest Factory Records — is 11 tracks of synth-pop joy, a perfect soundtrack to the summer of any queer person’s dreams. Exuberant dance pop mixes with hopeful introspection, allowing the trio’s full range of talent to shine.

However, discussing this album as a standalone body of work does an injustice to the underlying themes of the album. On their first two albums, the Los Angeles-based trio, made up of Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson, openly share how relationships and complexities of life left them guarded and heartbroken. “MUNA,” on the other hand, shows the band prioritizing themselves.

Sometime between the release of their second album, “Saves the World,” in 2019 and now, MUNA’s approach to feeling and emotions completely evolved for the better. The catalyst for this change may have been the COVID-19 pandemic, or maybe their previous label RCA dropping the band suddenly between albums. Regardless, the change that allowed this album to be created is what sets it apart from any of their previous releases.

This growth can be best seen on the string-driven “Kind of Girl,” an ode to self-compassion and learning to take up space in your own life. With each line she sings, lead singer Gavin seems to learn how to be kind to herself, despite being aware of her flaws. Gavin sings, “Yeah, I like telling stories / But I don’t have to write them in ink / I could still change the end / At least I’m the kind of girl / I’m the kind of girl who thinks I can.” 

For MUNA, self awareness has become a tool to learn how to put themselves first, instead of simply being a reminder of all the ways they remain imperfect as people. On “Home by Now,” the album’s third single, Gavin reflects on a relationship she ended because she knew it would eventually become destructive. However, she can’t escape the questions that choice raised, singing “Would we have turned a corner if I had waited? / Do I need to lower my expectations? If we’d kept heading in the same direction / Would we be home by now?”

On “Anything But Me,” Gavin tells a former lover she is willing to be there for them in any way she can — from a distance. The song is a standout on the album, as the maturity required to be willing to be there for an ex-lover while still prioritizing yourself gives listeners something to aspire to.

The closing song, “Shooting Star,” is the perfect way to wrap up the album. With ethereal production and Gavin’s soft vocals, the song uses shooting stars as a metaphor for staying out of the path of someone who will only burn themselves out. Gavin sings “And that’s what you are, you’re so bright / You burn my eyes and you move too fast / So I say ‘Goodnight, make it home’ like I’m making a wish.”

The themes of growth, compassion and their accompanying joy are allowed to shine due to the production on the album, which was done by the members of MUNA. The band’s signature synth-pop takes on a new form on this album, drawing on influences ranging from Americana to Disco. 

“What I Want” is a masterclass in carefree dance pop. On the track, Gavin sings, “I wanna dance in the middle of a gay bar,” and makes listeners want to join her. “Solid” is a Glam Rock-inspired summertime anthem about a self-confident person whom Gavin admires. The infectious chorus radiates bliss and is easy to sing along to.

From the incredible sound to the cathartic lyrics, “MUNA” introduces us to a new era of MUNA. By being open about the difficulties that come along with putting yourself first, the band lets the listener know it is okay to struggle while learning to grow. MUNA shows us how they’ve grown as people and, in doing so, encourages listeners to find a new version of themselves as well.

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