Genre tags can be reductive at the best of times, but they’re often entirely unable to tell the entire story. Take Muncie Girls, for instance. The Exeter trio have a background in punk, but stylistically have never quite fit those margins. They’re at least partially indebted to the emo revival, but even that belies key aspects of their sonic structure. Essentially, they’re a band that have carved their own niche by means of hybrid songwriting – a free-thinking, independent force within the wider spectrum of British rock in its current climate.
With Fixed Ideals, their second studio album, Muncie Girls have made a point of further exploring their sonic palette and taking a few leaps of faith in the process. The result is their strongest collection of songs to date, succinctly pulling together a tight LP of instantly accessible and inherently relateable numbers that will both please long-serving fans and make a few new ones in the process. Lead-ins like “Picture of Health” and “Locked Up” boast an upbeat urgency that are both complemented and contrasted by Lande Hekt’s lyricism – yearning and vulnerable in the former, biting and unwavering in the latter. As a singer and lyricist, Hekt has an uncanny ability to deliver even the most menacing of takedowns in a warmly melodic and distinctly catchy manner. You might not even notice on first listen, for instance, just how damning and targeted a song like “Jeremy” is – after all, it’s dressed up with enough major chords and pop sensibilities that Hekt could more or less get away with anything. It’s entirely effective – a Trojan horse of sorts that adds further layers of intrigue to the band’s impressive set of skills.
Elsewhere, the band go for everything from dreamy pop (the twee “Bubble Bath,” which features the titular object running in the background) to harder-edged rock (“Laugh Again”), finding ways to tweak and innovate their established sound at either end. There are clear signs of development, with the effort the band have put in paying off in dividends – drummer Luke Ellis has never sounded nor played better, while guitarist Luke Ellis makes the most of the more layered tracks with rich tone and tactical lead work. What’s stayed the same, however, is the empathy and emotion Muncie Girls are able to draw from their listeners. It’s easy to hear your own personal frustrations mirrored in “Clinic,” or knowingly nod when Lekt sings of loneliness and exhaustion on “In Between Bands.” If there’s a central appeal to what Muncie Girls do, it’s their humanity. Truthfully, they’re still figuring it all out just like the rest of us. There’s hope and solace in that.