Listening to the debut album from Los Angeles-based trio MUNA, it would be easy to assume that based on their sunny synth compositions, they’d make propulsive music for the dance floor set. Part of that is true, but it’s apparent that with About U, they have a lot more to offer than just making people move.
The Los Angeles-based group – Katie Gavin (lead vocals / production), Naomi McPherson (production / guitar / synths / vocals) and Josette Maskin (lead guitar / vocals) – formed in 2013 and released a series of EP’s of various evolutions of what they’ve described as “dark pop.” These eventually earned them tours with bands like Of Monsters and Men, a slot at Lollapalooza, and even a TV appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
The band’s early success is apparent from the leadoff track So Special, full of cyclical, moody synths that would not be out of place during cinematic nighttime desert drive. It’s a great table setter - quickly breaking into something brighter, bursting into a chorus about the disappointment of lost love. The band plays with atmospherics in the bridge through manipulating vocals and slick guitars that show their dexterity. Songs like End of Desire and Everything, with their multi-layered vocal approaches, sound like they’ve taken a page out of the HAIM playbook, and it works great. But then there are songs take a decidedly more serious turn. The lead single, Loudspeaker, is a slow burn anthem – the lyrics: what you've done to me/well I've seen many a friend be silenced/thinking nobody would believe them/well baby you've got another thing coming, is a direct reference at the band’s intent of the song to bring awareness of how common it is for women who experience sexual assault. The chorus drives it home – so if I feel real good tonight/ I'm gonna put it high on the loudspeaker/and if I feel like crying, I won't hide it / I am a loudspeaker. While nothing can truly ease that trauma, Loudspeaker is a great respite, even if just for a few minutes.
I Know a Place, imagines an actual respite. It starts pretty syrupy with its ooh, yeah background vocals and stratosphere-stretching chorus, but a little context changes that perspective. MUNA’s three members identify as queer, and the song talks of a safe space where everyone will ‘lay down their weapon’ and ‘giving me trust and see what will happen. The band released it in the wake of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub Massacre in June 2016. With that knowledge, it feels more purposeful than a simple pop song.
While songs like I Know a Place are about an idea that is utopian, achieving what MUNA describe doesn’t feel completely out of the realm of possibility. About U is an album with plenty of imagination and a fearlessness to talk about things that matter in a way that a wide audience can understand. Their sound is perfect for their message, and if this album is any indication, what’s to come may soon offer MUNA a bigger platform than they ever expected.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.