Genre: Neo-soul, Funk, Disco
Label: XL Recordings
Quality: FLAC (tracks)
- The Heat (03:16)
- Accelerate (03:04)
- Busy Earnin' (03:01)
- Platoon (03:12)
- Drops (02:53)
- Time (03:33)
- Smoking Pixels (01:47)
- Julia (03:15)
- Crumbler (03:02)
- Son of a Gun (03:28)
- Lucky I Got What I Want (04:16)
- Lemonade Lake (04:19)
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In the summer of 2013, an anonymous UK production duo only known by the initials of J and T released a 7" under the name of Jungle. From this side of the Atlantic, there was a bit of an eye roll: anonymous Brits who are taken with the sound of pirate radio jungle rendered back when they were just weens? But rather than follow in the lineage of the likes of Zomby, Burial, and the like, the video for that first single “Platoon” (featuring Ellen’s favorite B-girl) revealed that Jungle weren’t early '90’s ‘ardcore enthusiasts as much as they were just two blokes into Jamiroquai.
For a recent series of sold-out shows in Europe and New York City, J and T have dilated to a seven-person live band that features some chops and muscle, but at the root of their 12-track self-titled debut for XL, Jungle retains the constricts of the original duo of producers Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland. Throughout their first album, they favor the bantamweight soul reminiscent of early '80s British acts like Imagination, Fun Boy Three, I-Level and Fine Young Cannibals, to name but a few. But it’s the group’s sense of simple, dance-focused visuals that have attained a certain level of buzz. Peel back those effective visuals and their sonic palette is rather confectionary: pliant bass, simple 4/4 beats, spindling guitar. Sometimes the synths that underpin the tracks are frothy, other times airy, in a few instances bubbly, but they are almost impossible to differentiate from track to track. The synthesized horns and eddying synth washes of “Busy Earnin’” are a nice garland for a track that laments the self-centeredness of being “Too busy earning/ Can’t get enough.”
Too often, Jungle’s shimmering surfaces belie the flimsiness of the songs themselves, which buckle under any sort of weight. Take opener “The Heat”, a catchy, light funk number which manages to shoehorn in three separate “heat” references in under 10 seconds: actual temperature, sexual intensity, and the police (via a sample of wailing sirens). It’s the image of the roller-skating b-boys in matching tracksuits in the song's video, and not the song itself, that leaves a lasting impression.
Digested as individual singles rather than as an entire album in one sitting, Jungle fares far better. “Platoon” remains a standout, as does “Time”, though these songs’ distinguishing features blur due to the indistinguishable tracks that border either side of them. The falsetto-castrato harmonies—just beyond the range of Pharrell—that deliver each chorus and hook proves tiring on the ears, too: imagine TV on the Radio’s “I Was a Lover” with Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone forever in the purgatory of that high, grating register, never to descend back into a growl or tenor, much less their regular singing voice. With an expanded band, one hopes that Jungle might broaden their template and branch out into different timbres. As it stands, remaining at that upper register with every word and line, the album’s 39 minutes feel much longer, leaving one high and dry.