Photo Credit: Isaac Schneider
Muna’s self-titled third album starts out by touching several bases right away. The first few seconds of the opening cut “Silk Chiffon” introduce a subtle synth intro before an acoustic guitar and vocals that suggest that what we’re in for is mainly a singer-songwriter vibe. Then, less than a minute in, we find out that our first impression was correct, as the track then goes full-on synth, with all the obligatory echoes and similar effects. However, by this point, most listeners aren’t going to bother trying to dissect the various musical elements of the song, as they’ll be too busy enjoying it.
Listeners also might not notice that the lyrics spell out very clearly that the song is about a romantic relationship between two women (“She said I got her if I want // She’s so soft like silk chiffon… // That’s how it feels, oh, when she’s on me”). All three members of Muna – lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Katie Gavin and multi-instrumentalists Josette Muskin and Naomi McPherson – do openly identify as queer (McPherson is also non-binary), but the themes of many of the songs on the album are universal, just as is the record’s appeal is bound to be.
While the sophomore track “What I Want” skips over the hybrid element introduced in “Silk Chiffon”, instead opting for all-synth with more of a bouncy and optimistic vibe, “Runner’s High”, becomes the first of several cuts to touch upon elements of modern country music. This includes the heartfelt, self-actualizing “Kind of Girl”, a mid-tempo cut that is kind of terrific. But synthesizers do largely dominate the album’s sound, so there should be no real surprise to find a major ’80s influence on a few tracks, but even within that realm, Muna finds different angles from which to attack successfully. “Solid” (which even shares a title with a 1984 hit by Ashford & Simpson), offers up some nice synth/guitar hybrid a la Prince or the Cars circa 1986. However, another mid-tempo, “No Idea”, has the very good idea of also peppering itself with some synths meant to emulate a string section, a la late ’70s disco, in the chorus.
On nearly every cut, Gavin’s indie-rock type vocals still manage to make the biggest impression, and the album’s overall contrasts and mix of different genres serve the work as a whole quite well (we should probably have expected no less from a group that’s opened live dates for Harry Styles, Kasey Musgraves, and Bleachers). Musically, the album’s only humdrum offering might be “Home by Now”, another mostly synth track that does nothing to stand out. “Handle Me” handles its influence of ’80s mainstream rock nicely but lyrically ends up as the record’s most frustrating track. Though seemingly about the objectification of other people, it’s hard to tell from just what perspective it’s trying to do so (“I am not a brand new bicycle // I am rough around the edge // I am not a flower petal // You can handle me, you can handle me”).
Muna chooses to wind down the album with a pair of “quieter” songs, the mid-tempo “Loose Garment”, which is also heavy on the string-section synths, as well as another light synth track, “Shooting Star”, featuring just the right amount of guitar twang. Another heartfelt one, the latter song seems to be concerned with an unrequited, or not completely fulfilled relationship of some kind: “I wanted to turn back // But when I see a shooting star // I stay out of its path.” Based on this album, it doesn’t seem like there will be any turning back for Muna or much to obstruct their path: in the current music arena Gavin, Muskin, and McPherson are clearly shooting stars, and will only continue to rise.
Written by: Richard John Cummins