Courtesy of RCA Records

MUNA Imagine A World Ruled By Empathy

On their debut, the L.A. synth-pop trio create a space of warmth and safety

When the real world is a nightmare and the former theoretical utopia of the internet is another one, it’s necessary to imagine what other kinds of utopias might look and sound like. One appealing option this month comes from L.A. synth-pop group MUNA. Their debut long player, About U, feels like a relief from the daily deluge of sadness, because it’s bold enough to picture a world run with empathy. “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,” lead singer Katie Gavin emotes on “Loudspeaker,” tapping into the stream of 2017’s extreme highs and lows. And by documenting their own personal experiences with love and desire, MUNA demonstrate that love and sex can still be extremely revolutionary. Daring to care feels like it means more than ever.

MUNA is comprised of Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson — three young women who met in college and self-identify as queer. While they were understandably wary of sexual identity becoming the primary focus of press coverage about the band, they've said they decided it was worth it because they wanted the band to be “a safe haven” — for fans, presumably, but also for themselves. Listening to About U feels like hanging out in an impregnable fortress where fascism and prejudice can be resisted not only with strength, but with warmth.

Every celebratory song on About U is tinged with sadness, and every sad song limned with celebration. They wrote “I Know a Place” to celebrate the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, but during the writing process they realized that the song should focus on the work that remains to be done. "I Know a Place" proposes an idealistic dance floor — “I know a place where we can go, where everyone's gonna lay down their weapon” — a lyric that feels like a direct rebuke to the hate-mongering and fear-stoking of events like the Pulse nightclub shooting. “Don’t you be afraid of love and affection,” they sing, espousing a radical philosophy that's particularly nourishing. Along with artists like Austra, whose recent album Future Politics imagines alternate futures, MUNA point toward a vision of astral feminist utopia that feels like a crucial counternarrative to the monochromatic state currently being imagined in public by those in power.

MUNA have been compared to Haim for being a female three-piece from L.A. who employ drum machines and guitars, but that comparison is gendered and superficial — they’re wildly different bands. I hear MUNA as more reminiscent of intellectual '80s goth electro-pop bands like Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. With their insanely catchy hooks and their evident belief that the personal is political, MUNA's album also has flashes of Talking Heads. Songs like “Winterbreak” and “So Special” are danceable calls to revolution, pop letters to young poets reassuring them that they are not alone out there.

About Uis entirely self-produced, entering MUNA into a cabal of newer female producers like Grimes, Syd Tha Kyd, and Holly Herndon who are seizing the means of production for themselves as a direct rebuff to the idea that only men can think like machines. With this album, MUNA look toward a future where machines help us not only to dance, but to feel. Their choice not to use any gendered pronouns whatsoever has a double effect: Not only can you project any human object of desire you want onto songs like “Crying on the Bathroom Floor” and “End of Desire,” you can imagine that object of desire to be America itself. “Deep down I know I am worshipping a false idol," they sing. "Deep down I know it’s a false hope / But I won’t let go of this feeling / Like I’ve got something to believe in.”