Early last year, an anonymous duo known only as ‘J’ and ‘T’ started to put out some exciting tracks. Accompanied exclusively by feel-good videos of various people dancing, Jungle quickly shot to the forefront of the electronic scene, and their production was met with incredible praise. The once faceless crew blends a two-toned and textured vocal styling with exceptional technical quality, reminiscent of any of Jai Paul’s scattered releases. They’re out of the shadows now with their debut self-titled album, and it’s a masterpiece.
Jungle profess that they’re “fixated with sampling,” and the album’s opener The Heat is a delightful testament to that. Muffled police sirens and snippets of conversation form the airy and slightly detuned landscape, in which J and T’s respective vocal talents thrive. Lyrically, the actual motif of heat is a little overdone, but luckily Jungle joins the special selection of musicians that use their voices as instruments rather than simply storytelling devices. All is not lost. Accelerate, a previously unreleased track, starts to cement Jungle’s production style. The songs are delicate and warm. They’re miscreants with pitch, often sliding up from note to note in a luscious and delayed bend, but they maintain a production sensibility that affords them this playfulness. Simple drum beats and chord structures “allow all the percussion to be the groove element,” as the duo said in their recent interview with Clash. Busy Earnin’, which was recently performed (with full band) on the Jimmy Kimmel show, is effortlessly funky. Trumpets blare over synth-pulses, and the collection comes together in one of the most invigorating tracks on the album.
Working through their back-catalogue of music, next comes Drops and Platoon. These two tracks were released as a double A-Side on XL records – home to Jai Paul and Jamie xx - last year, and were pivotal in Jungle’s development and rise to fame. The sampling is its most esoteric here, with Drops playing host to a creaking door that works its way in to the chorus. The most recent single, Time, with its bubbling synthetic crescendos and upward legatos, is a standout. After that a western interlude that could live very happily on the Django Unchained soundtrack, Smoking Pixels cleanses our palette for the next instalment of unreleased goodness.
Julia is killer. Joining the ranks of songs named after girls – and, we all love non-descript girls – this song is an open and lyrically poignant piece. It plays with a resounding longing for the unknown, amplified somehow by the scattered percussive pops and cackles. In our over-processed and starkly unfocused world, it’s refreshing to be offered music so elegant and soulful. This is the pinnacle of the album, and the best of Jungle’s work to date.
At this point in the album, their sound has been firmly established, and it’s now where I wish they would build off of Julia’s strength. Unfortunately, Jungle has other plans. The next tracks, Crumbler, Son of a Gun, and Lucky I Got What I Want, all seem like a rehashing of the previous work. There’s some exciting vocal work in Son Of A Gun, and they’re definitely listenable songs, but unfortunately they fall flat. Perhaps that’s because the bar was set so high. Jungle’s style is so cohesive and consistent that it’s easy to discount them as a formulaic group. Lemonade Lake is a much-needed break from the soundscape. Mixing plucks and muted stabs with alternatively processed and ethereal vocal work, Jungle end the adventure in an airy and smooth way.
Jungle close the door on their first album with a well-established and decidedly groovy style. They exist in a post-Jamiroquai bubble that distances itself from any gimmick or trick, and focuses solely on soul, if you will. These two - or seven, if you happen to have the good fortune to see them live in concert - are passionate and piquant. I’m worried that they’ve boxed themselves in, and although I’m perfectly content staying in this little box alongside them, I might get tired of it soon. I’ll get more critical if their next release doesn’t deviate at least a tad, but for now: Listen to Jungle.
(Don’t Google ‘Jungle’ – you won’t find them. Don’t panic. They’re here).