The New Releases Shelf — Muna

What if getting dropped by a major label is the best thing that could possibly happen? Maybe Muna could have found their way to the current version of their collective creative self under the corporate yoke of RCA Records, but that scenario doesn’t seem all that plausible to me. Would the venerable label know what to do with the magnificent “Silk Chiffon,” such an effortless and elegant pop triumph that transmogrifies a pride flag into jubilant music? Surely not as effectively as Phoebe Bridgers, the endlessly cunning artist who snapped up Muna for her brand-spanking new vanity label, Saddest Factory, and offered guest vocals to deliver some of the song’s most Phoebe-ish lyrics (“I’m high and I’m feeling anxious/ Inside of the CVS/ When she turns ’round halfway down the aisle/ With that ‘you’re on camera’ smile/ Like she wants to try me on”). A skilled practitioner of magic, Bridgers knows fellow pop sorceresses when she hears them. The album Muna suggests her admiring encouragement can help others spin magic into miracles.

I think it’s fair to conclude that Muna finds their voice on this album, their third studio full-length overall, and that voice is bright, vibrant, and resonant. Across the track list, the songs gleam, managing that tricky balance between feeling polished to perfection while still have the friction of spontaneity and happy invention. “Anything But Me,” another enticing advance single, puts breakup bitterness to a stride of squared-shoulder empowerment as effectively as anyone since the jagged little pill gulper of a generation ago. “What I Want” is a similar celebration of declaring determination for uncompromised personal celebration: “I want the full effects, I wanna hit it hard/ I wanna dance in the middle of a gay bar/ Ooh oh oh, that’s what I want/ There’s nothing wrong with what I want.” Part of the revolution is undoubtedly that Muna position their lyrics from the perspective of queer individuals, but the excellence of the album goes beyond representation. It’s full of dancefloor delights no matter who you want to kiss when the beat kicks in.

Muna’s easygoing pop mastery is such that they occasionally call to mind some other concocters of sterling sweet-sad singles. “Kind of Girl” a little like the softened iteration of the Bangles right before they went their separate ways for a good long while, albeit with a whisper of twang, and “No Idea” bears some of spooky, sparkling fingerprints of Mitski, who cowrote the song. Invariably, Bridgers comparisons are almost irresistible, with “Loose Garment” standing as one of the tracks most comfy strummed and sung by the gal in the skeleton costume. To their great credit, though, Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson mostly sound like they’re asserting a solid, stalwart artistic statement all their own. Echoes are signs of kindred rather than copying. Muna spins marvelously in its own fine way.

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