Christian van hemert

Joy and heartbreak in the music of June

This month, we play catch-up with high-profile indie queer artists MUNA and Bartees Strange, and watch the second album from singer 070 Shake, who worked with Kanye West.

MUNA | s/t | saddest factory

MUNA could have easily become a victim of the music industry. Shortly after releasing their debut EP on Bandcamp in 2014, they signed with RCA, but they never connected to a large audience. During the pandemic, the group was dropped. Amid the desperation of that era, with musicians unable to earn an income from live music, they may have broken up, but they got a career bailout from bi indie star Phoebe Bridgers. Their current success owes a lot to her — she signed them to her Saddest Factory label, sings the second verse of their alt-rock radio hit “Silk Chiffon,” and even brought them on as the opening act for her current arena tour.

MUNA’s pop always felt like it had the potential to reach a wider audience than it did. The band’s sardonic sense of humor masked their inner optimism. “Number One Fan” addressed impostor syndrome and the difficulties of seeing merit in one’s own work. “I Know a Place” was a response to the Pulse nightclub massacre. Their eponymous album goes straight to happiness. The refrain “life is so fun, life is so fun” from “Silk Chiffon” resonates everywhere. This song is a simple celebration of love between women, while “What I Want” takes its ice-cold synthesizers and vocal melody to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” neighborhood, but sets it to upbeat lyrics to catch up. time wasted in the closet. The band’s music videos emphasize their guitar playing, but the acoustic and electric guitars season into an electronic mix. (Their mix of influences encompasses mainstream country.) While their lyrics get mundane at times, like on “Handle Me,” MUNA’s self-titled album is pleasingly serious without becoming cheesy.

070 Shake | “You Can’t Kill Me” | GOOD Music/Def Jam

070 Shake, who rejects labels of sexual identity but talks openly about being attracted to women in her lyrics and interviews, embraces the melodrama of romance amid swamp menace. Genre tags do not identify his music very accurately. It contains elements of emo, R&B, hip-hop (though she rarely raps, though her vocals are filtered through heavy Autotune) and even industrial music. It plays like an electronic mutation of the blues. Her second album, “You Can’t Kill Me”, showcases her gothic side.

Travis Scott and Kanye West collaborator Mike Dean mixed and mastered “You Can’t Kill Me,” and the careful choice of keyboard sounds suggests his hand. His music incorporates textures from the 80s, but it doesn’t look back and revive synthwave. His songs are constantly changing. “Guest” plays like a never-ending intro, with 070 Shake singing over scattered guitar, keyboards and drums. “Body”‘s squelchy synthesizer interrupts the song, sliding from note to note with a high, bright whine. “Come Back Home” is driven by piano and heavily orchestrated strings. “Medicine” begins softly, with percussion midway through, and eventually turns into an agonizing cry of “you’re going to leave me.” His video suggests the same desperation by showing 070 Shake underwater, swallowing gasps of oxygen from a mask. “You Can’t Kill Me” describes a life in motion, with a reluctance to settle in any space for too long. The mood triumphs over any individual hook, but it demands attention instead of sinking into the background. The tone of the album sounds more sinister than its lyrics suggest.

Strange Bartees | “Farm to table” | 4AD

When singer/songwriter Bartees Strange released a National covers ep as his first project, it was a statement about his place as a person of color in rock music, after finding himself one of the Very Rare Blacks at a Band Concert in Washington, DC. Having just released his debut album for 4AD, he is now their label mate. But while his versions of their songs deviated from the originals, his rockers often follow in their footsteps, with an arena-ready build that begins with booming guitar arpeggios. “Heavy Hand” begins softly, introduces a strong drumbeat, and after the second chorus incorporates a horn section.

Every article on Strange leads with its resistance to genre categorization. Back on his 2020 song “Mossblerd,” he sang “genres keep us in our boxes.” He hears this as a method of resisting racism. But the variety of “Farm to Table” moods goes through more than just a list of styles on the album. Amusingly, “Cosigns” begins with Autotuned rapping about Strange’s rise to indie stardom and his friendship with Lucy Dacus, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, Courtney Barnett and Phoebe Bridgers. It eschews simplistic structure, moving into a spaced-out instrumental passage and another pompous chorus. None of these three sections is repeated.

Now that Strange has moved on to a major independent label, it seems like he’s aiming for the biggest audience possible. Trained as an opera singer, his voice has a rich, full timbre. (He sings in falsetto on “Black Gold.”) But while the first three songs of “Farm to Table” reach out and immediately grab the listener, the album becomes quieter and more subtle towards the end. “Hold the Line” returns wistfully to his family, with a painful, country-tinged guitar solo. The “We Were Only Close For Like Two Weeks” interlude refuses to deliver a full song, skipping like a broken CD player for less than a minute. “Hennessy” aims for the spirit of a singing campfire but doesn’t quite deliver. “Black Gold”, which incorporates samples of Strange’s family members speaking folk music, would have been a better ending for the album. But the scope of “Farm to Table” is quite successful.