With each listen to their debut From Caplan To Belsize, the pieces connecting Muncie Girls to the references to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar fell more and more into place, venturing into a world that takes so much of a toll on almost everyone in it, but ploughing through and striving to be better. It’s seen the trio rise up the ranks of the indie-punk pile, with tours, festival shows and growing crowds that have become so enraptured by Lande Hekt’s personal and relatable viewpoints on modern life. But little has changed since, whether that’s regarding mental health or just society as a whole, and so Fixed Ideals circles back to Plath once again, this time from her poem Sonnet: For Eva, less as a direct through line and more as a reference point for Hekt’s current mindset.
The result, somewhat fittingly, feels like more of a continuation of From Caplan To Belsize above anything else, with more poignant, pertinent dissections of modern life bristling with charm and an irrepressible sense of melody. It’s not a simple retread either, as Hekt still manages to get so much out of a real knack for personal plain-spokenness in her writing that remains appreciative of even the smallest kernels of positivity in a situation. That’s not for nothing either, especially given how they’re able to radiate from the dire, downcast undertones that colour so much of this album. There are the family struggles that serve as bookends, with Jeremy as address to Hekt’s dismissive, right-wing father and Family Of Four recounting the struggles as one of three children to a single mother, while filling the gaps are the underfunding of mental health services on Clinic, the unwanted advances of chauvinistic men on Fig Tree (itself another reference to The Bell Jar), and just a general sense of regression in modern life on Locked Up. But it’s the cracks in between where the light shines through, and it gives Fixed Ideals a sense of greater likability and levity. It’s not always there, but it gives a track like Picture Of Health the extra bit of closure that it really benefits from, where Hekt sees her mental health as a present and clear issue, but remains thankful for the friends supporting her and staying by her side.
That sense of light is more present in the instrumentation than anything, if only as a forecast of things getting better. And while it’s definitely an improvement on From Caplan To Belsize’s similar template (the addition of a second guitar here really helps flesh out these songs to a fuller degree), Muncie Girls still aren’t averse to the typical trappings of modern indie-punk, namely hitting an ill-fated combination of twee and milquetoast that it’s hard to shake off. It’s not often, but the gurgles and pops on Bubble Bath and the acoustic, ‘90s-inspired alt-pop of Hangovers feel a bit tougher to swallow than usual.
The fact that what is the usual is fairly watertight helps a lot too, and from the slightly blurry indie-rock guitars of Isn’t Life Funny and the robust, unhampered riffing of High and Laugh Again, Muncie Girls deliver a good showing of their abilities to make a lot out of relatively little. It’s an inherently down-to-earth, no-frills approach, but in its brightness compared with Hekt’s softer vocals, more often than not it’s exuberant enough to leave a mark, more so than a lot of indie-punk, at least.
And that’s probably Muncie Girls’ best feature, that in a scene growing at a rate of knots with very little variety, they’re able to forge an identity from little more than feeling and delivery. As a purely sonic experience, Fixed Ideals falls right in line with the others in their field, but there’s charm and personality that gives it the edge. Even if Muncie Girls are still a work in progress (and a handful of tracks here imply that as the case), they’re moving fast in the right direction, and that’s still definitely a good thing.
For fans of: Happy Accidents, Great Cynics, Peaness
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Fixed Ideals’ by Muncie Girls is released on 31st August on Specialist Subject Records.