MUNA Mine the Cacophony of Queerness on Self-Titled Album

BY Dede AkoloPublished Jun 21, 2022

Los Angeles pop band MUNA bring fun and lush arrangements to their self-titled third album. As if floating from the sky, a sheer sheet of millennial pink fabric emanates from the first track, "Silk Chiffon," featuring Saddest Factory CEO and queer co-conspirator Phoebe Bridgers. The track's melody and lyrics sheen with ease, and yet careful consideration. The consonance of the chorus — the repetition of the letters 'S' and 'L,' — makes the titular line sound like an amazing rap song. "Life's so fun, life's so fun… keeping it light like silk chiffon" rings in a new era of sapphic music free of anguish.
When it comes to MUNA, their West coast roots run the deepest and shine the brightest on this track. I first found MUNA via their anthemic breakout hit "I Know A Place." I have this urge to be hyperbolic when discussing MUNA's hits. This three-piece has a talent for writing certain phrases and melodies that pang at the yearning and softness that internet kids would call "sapphic." Along with being gay (pronounced GUH-eh) the lead single represents the overall temperament of the entire album. However, the album pales in comparison to the first single.
In terms of "things my therapist reminds me every session," this album hits the nail right on the head when it comes to empowerment. "What I Want" has a refrain with the proclamation, "There's nothing wrong with what I want" and MUNA spend the album doing much of the same. I'm not sure what the typical listener or queer internetling would think about these apt lessons in the lyrics. While necessary, sometimes it feels disingenuous to be so literal with the song's themes.
On this album, MUNA articulate the cacophony of new emotions that come with being queer in 2022. I'm sure a fraction of readers are "pandemic queers," finding themselves whilst being stuck at home under lockdowns. Trying to reemerge back into mainstream, hustle-and-bustle society when you've spent two years at standstill is overwhelming… and wonderful. "Runner's High" shows this sense of urgency felt in a "post-pandemic" summer (imagine I am putting the highest amount of quotations marks — wear a mask you filthy animals). Percussion pushes through the ambience of the city. Vocalist Katie Gavin sings about the urgency that can be felt after passing the grieving stage of a breakup. She's "moving fast so you can't cross her mind" with the hi-hats maintaining a staccato rhythm like a pattering heartbeat. Gavin's voice soars with the titular words "runner's high" floating in her head voice. The drop after this chorus phrase has a bold, four-on-the-floor kick which sounds like the ill-advised stomps one takes on the run.
From "Runner's High," the album can drag until the second half, which has many more acoustic ballads. This song is the best example of MUNA's 1980s inspirations in practice, something that brought them into conversation with "I Know a Place." For all the influence drawn from '80s new wave and the disco runoffs of the late '70s, some bands channel it better than others. MUNA's more synth-heavy tracks like "Handle Me" and "No Idea" can feel indistinguishable. It's a mixture of drums and synthesizers sounding similar in every track, or Gavin's vocal range staying deep in her chest voice. Gavin has a raspy quality to her voice that feels reminiscent of mid-century country artists, however, the melodies employed in these tracks are predominantly in her lower register. While creating an assertive quality, you can often hear Gavin straining her voice to hit to certain notes.
But when Gavin reaches those highs, it emits a monstrous amount of something our world lacks: queer joy. Generation Z is no longer satisfied with simply seeing queer characters suffer in their media, and MUNA represent the counteraction to this anguish. Speaking with VICE in 2016, guitarist Naomi McPherson said they wish they "knew of someone in a band and think they were cool and know they were out." Today, LGBTQ+ representation concerns itself less with anger, death, and sadness. In the best of cases, children and adults no longer think their identity is only a death sentence.
A song like "Kind of Girl" shows a listless yearning that oddly permeates many of the best pieces of queer art. Akin to a country song, Gavin sings about how endlessly parsing her troubles for inspiration has tired her. She dreams about "working in the garden" every morning, and finding someone that will not only love her, but also someone she'll let love her.
It wasn't so long ago that one's sexual orientation or gender identity was intrinsically connected to a shorter life span. Globally, progress looks very different when dealing with another country's history. Ghana, the United Arab Emirates and Russia typically cross our minds when thinking about countries that are "behind the times." Statistics Canada found that in 2020, 10% of hate crimes were motivated by someone's sexual orientation. 2020 marked the highest number of hate crimes since the government began keeping record in 2009. This does not acknowledge the nuances of Indigenous and Black LGBTQ+ members, whose race and sexual orientation/gender identity multiply their visibility in public.
Whether one's dreams of happily ever after were stunted because our threats to their life or being isolated from their community, it seems like many of us are still adolescents. "Loose Garment" punctuates the theme of tranquility with a blissful string arrangement. Here, the theme of queer joy becomes much more potent with lyrics about choosing happiness. Or at the very least, MUNA play with the choice to not suffer.
(Saddest Factory), (Dead Oceans)

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