Release Date: July 14
Label: XL Recordings
Jungle make so much sense as a live outfit- they are a group that physically fill up a stage and metaphorically burn it to the ground with a tight collection of hypnotic, take-no-prisoners soul tracks.
If you don’t believe me, check out any live video of theirs from this past year, one that they’ve spent crushing festivals the world over. There’s something in their all black stage aesthetic and impressive gravitas that attempts to establish a brand. Their unified spirit feels like a modern update of Parliament-Funkadelic, with fewer adult diapers. Armed with an exciting live show, killer music videos and some truly infectious tunes, Jungle’s talent has earned them some well-deserved hype, but nonetheless can’t help but seem misplaced in the confines of a studio.
The London-based collective’s self-titled debut is full of tracks that deliver slick, catchy grooves that are ripe with immediacy, but leave the listener a bit emotionally unsatisfied after their initial buzz wears off. Many songs seem to reside in the same corner of tonality and tempo, failing to go much of anywhere faster or slower than 100 BPM. Still, it’s hard to keep still during the album’s 39 minutes. The sheer jubilance of the jumping bass and neon soaked synths of “Time,” for example, make it that much easier to forget the song’s simplistic lyricism. My critical instinct continually wants to write Jungle off for a lack of variety and depth in their tunes, but in simpler terms, my hips just don’t lie.
Listening to this record track by track doesn’t seem to be the right way to approach it. In order, funky nuggets of neo-soul like “Platoon” seem far more colorless than they are alone. The group vocal style is overused and loses potency in the record’s latter stages, but this and other large-sounding production choices have purpose, they reinforce the all-for-one mentality of this group. Fittingly, founding members Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland used “J” and “T” as musical aliases when they released their first collaborative 7”, forgoing individual recognition in order to serve the greater good within the Jungle brand and the soul genre. More a collection of singles than a full-blown narrative, Jungle still has an undeniable potential to win over the most cynical listener one or two songs at a time.
Jungle’s artistic mission lies somewhere in the single-minded heart of dance music: they’ve set out to make the world dance, not think. I’m interested to see if their sound has enough staying power to carry them past their status as a festival buzz band. I’m rooting for them.