There comes a time in every artist’s career when the discussion of developing a new sound gets put on the table. Whether that topic is set down by an artists’ manager, their label, or themselves, it’s a classic “fork in the road” type of situation faced by creatives, specifically in the mainstream space.
Taylor Swift went from a fake-country-accent Nashville-ian (born in Pennsylvania) to one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Lady Gaga went from creating dance music for sweaty clubs to singing on and acting in an Oscar-nominated feature film, to singing with Tony Bennett, to releasing an album with a bit (a lot) of country twang, then back to her roots by releasing a dance album in 2020. Lorde went from launching her career around her image of being a jaded teenager to dancing on the beach in a yellow dress, singing about climate change.
On rising indie-pop band MUNA’s self-titled third album, out tomorrow, the band adopts new sounds that tackle otherwise previously uncharted waters: flirting with electropop, pop-R&B, and even a little bit of country twang. Though these sounds were arguably woven into the cloth that made up the fabric of one of their biggest songs, “Number One Fan,” which was the lead single off of their sophomore album Saves The World, the sound comes to a full fruition on MUNA: one that feels like home for them.
Despite MUNA—composed of Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson, and Josette Maskin—only recently becoming a household name in the ever-changing world of pop culture, they are no strangers to the industry. The band has been touring for nearly ten years: originally forming in 2013 and touring with musicians like BØRNS (how I initially discovered them), Bleachers, Kacey Musgraves, and even Harry Styles. But despite their impressive list of touring companions under their belt along with a slew of headline tours and festival performances, the band was dropped by their record label in 2020, shortly after the release of Saves The World.
I know what you’re thinking: how does a band with this much talent and notoriety get dropped by their label? While I certainly don’t have the answer to that, I would go ahead and argue that this was probably the best thing that could have happened to them. According to an interview with Rolling Stone, the band was dropped for “not making enough money.”
“Maybe a major label had a harder time understanding who we’re really for and where we belong,” Gavin said.
Despite this small bump in the road in their career, MUNA continued to work on music. Thanks to their collaboration with dance group The Knocks on the 2020 song “Bodies,” which still sits in their top five most streamed songs on Spotify, new fans began to take notice: including Phoebe Bridgers, who you can now (sort of) consider to be the band’s boss.
In May 2021, MUNA became the second artist signed to Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory Records (Charlie Hickey the first). Saddest Factory Records operates as an “imprint” (considered a project, unit, or division) of Bridgers’ home label, Dead Oceans. As you can guess, “Silk Chiffon” was released next, with a verse by Bridgers herself. “Silk Chiffon,” which was co-written by Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian (two songwriting partners most well-known for their work on Kacey Musgraves Grammy-winning Golden Hour), garnered MUNA their first ever alternative radio hit.
MUNA’s debut LP About U is a breakup album, Saves The World is about finding the strength in yourself to overcome whatever life throws at you, and, in my humble opinion, MUNA is about that place you get to in life where you’ve done the work and just want to be happy. This is evident in not only “Silk Chiffon” (Life’s SO fun!), but in the album’s second track, “What I Want.”
“I spent way too many years not knowing what I wanted, how to get it, how to live it. And now, I’m gonna make up for it all at once, cause that’s just what I want” Gavin sings in the hook: a song that at least, to me, is the true opener of the album, one that sets the stage fully for what’s to come in the next nine songs.
The disco flair and club beats of “What I Want” feels more Lady Gaga and less Lucy Dacus: a comparison I wouldn’t have ever imagined thinking of back when MUNA was still in their debut album cycle. “Runner’s High” presents as a sequel (or perhaps a prequel) to MUNA’s lead single off the album, “Anything But Me,” (arguably one of the strongest on the project)—both songs a representation of the cathartic release of getting out of a toxic relationship—working in tandem to showcase the theme of this body of work.
Though it’s obvious that MUNA is embarking on a new journey with their sound, hints of their previous work still pop up in songs like “Home By Now” and “Handle Me,” two songs that arguably feel less sonically intriguing on the album, considering that they sound like songs MUNA has released before: the former reminding me of “I Know a Place,” the ladder “Pink Light.”
“Kind Of Girl,” the second single off the album and the sole acoustic ballad of the bunch, sticks out like a sore thumb: debatable if this is a good or a bad thing. While the lyricism is certainly on brand with the rest of the project, it comes off a bit like a demo: a song that was being workshopped in the studio and then suddenly deemed as a finished product.
Sonically, the most interesting track on the album arrives on “No Idea,” a song whose melody instantly made me think of “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa: the chorus “Juice” by Lizzo. This may be a coincidence, but I’d like to think of it as an intentional move, considering when listening to the entire album, it contains considerably more mainstream pop elements than MUNA’s previous work.
It’s also interesting to point out that “No Idea” was co-written with the indie-darling, Mitski, herself.
Another standout off the album, “Solid,” sounds like it could have been produced by The 1975 in a way that I hope it was actually co-created at the hands of Matt Healy. MUNA rounds out with “Loose Garment,” a song that hasn’t fully registered with me, and “Shooting Star,” which sounds like a scrapped Kacey Musgraves song.
While MUNA successfully transcends genres on their third album, it’s going to take some more time for them to fully flesh out the ideas they explore on MUNA. But at the end of the day, the album’s strength comes in its ability to try on multiple different ideas to exemplify the feeling of having confidence in your own autonomy: and I don’t think there’s much else more beautiful than that.
MUNA drops tomorrow.