MUNA – ‘MUNA’ album review: a field of sunflowers from poisoned ground

After being dropped by their label the three-piece had to regroup – but find a new level of freedom in this liberating era

No matter how you frame it, slapping your band name onto a record, three full-length releases in, feels like a statement: for MUNA, who originally signed to RCA Records, a great deal has changed in the last three years. Though 2019’s ‘Saves The World’ was one of that year’s stand-out records, clashing bright, brash pop with a darker lyrical core, it didn’t translate to chart success. By the time the pandemic hit, the trio had been dropped by their major label, and the exact shape of the band’s future was uncertain.

With the usual outlets of stages and clubs shut, vocalist Katie Gavin spent most of the early days of lockdown taking soil samples from her garden for scientific analysis; she soon learned that the ground underneath her allotment was riddled with poisonous lead. Eventually she and her bandmates all settled on a field of hardy sunflowers to take the veg’s place – which feels quite on the nose as a metaphor, admittedly, but you can’t deny it’s fitting considering what came next. By 2021 MUNA had signed to Saddest Factory Records, and counted their ‘Silk Chiffon’ collaborator Phoebe Bridgers as their label boss.

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Ironically, they’re now writing their biggest poppiest songs to date. Sharing noticeable DNA with Robyn’s ‘Body Talk’ trilogy, the stuttering ‘What I Want’ yearns for ridiculously silly nights out, and the giddying feeling of being swept up into the stratosphere on a big, gloopy lust-cloud. ”I want the full effects, I wanna hit it hard,” Gavin sings, “I wanna dance in the middle of a gay bar!” And the Phoebe Bridgers-featuring ‘Silk Chiffon’ is a wide-screen rom-com, all lightness and meaningful glances across an American pharmacy chain. Underpinned by sleazing synths, ‘Runner’s High’ initially harks back to the uneasy atmosphere of the trio’s debut cut ‘Winterbreak’ but soon explodes into something more driven and muscular. A break-up banger laden with cartoonish guitar squalls, there’s also softness at the heart of ‘Anything But Me’: “you can call me if there’s anything you need,” Gavin urges, “anything but me”.

While ‘Saves The World’ briefly dabbled with country-pop – particularly on ‘Good News (Ya‐Ya Song)’ – these influences feel more fully unpacked on ‘MUNA’. Doffing a cowboy’s stetson in the direction of Shania Twain before plastering the whole thing in twinkling synths, ’Solid’ is one such left-field standout. And serving as a kind of reflective mid-point, the country-flecked ‘Kind of Girl’ and ‘Handle Me’ head down a quieter, more introspective route. It suits them equally well.

By now, it should be clear that this lot know how to pen a whopper of a pop anthem – that remains apparent here – but more crucially ‘MUNA’ also serves as solid evidence of a band with many more chapters of evolution up their sleeves yet.

Details

  • Release date: June 24
  • Record label: Saddest Factory
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