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Album Review: Jungle – ‘Jungle’

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on July 16, 2014

Like many others, I first became acquainted with London duo Jungle earlier this year, after the release of their brass-infused single Busy Earnin’. As a sucker for a horn section, Jungle had my attention immediately. Several months later, they have not only my attention, but my adoration and some of my money. Jungle’s eponymous debut album is a genre-transcending masterpiece. Known simply as ‘J’ and ‘T’, the duo fuses soul and R&B with electro, funk and pop to create a sound that is simultaneously familiar and completely unique.

Within the first 30 seconds of the album’s opener, The Heat, you get a reasonable idea of what Jungle are about. Fluttering synth, delicate plucking and vocals smoother than Germany’s passing fold together to produce a gorgeous, layered track. The Heat flows almost seamlessly into Accelerate, which further showcases the immense vocal talents of the enigmatic ‘J’. Next comes the delightfully grandiose Busy Earnin’, which starts with a steady beat and an irresistible brass hook and builds into a bombastic revitalisation of the timeless funk notion: ‘Can’t get enough.’

Platoon was Jungle’s first single, and earned them substantial fanfare as a result of the song’s music video, which features an insanely talented six-year-old break dancing. The song itself is a fine representation of Jungle’s early workings, but perhaps lacks a bit of the spark that the duo have subsequently been able to foster. The same can be said for Drops, originally released as the B-side to Platoon. What Drops does offer listeners, however, is depth and variety, because it shelves the funk and enters slightly darker, more melancholy territory.

Lifting the mood significantly is Time, one of the standout tracks from the album and Jungle’s most recent single, wherein the duo adopt a more pop-oriented approach while not straying too far from their effective funk/soul/electro combination. Smoking Pixels is merely an instrumental interlude that leads into another gem, Julia, provider of the most infectious chorus on the album and fulfiller of every band’s unwritten obligation to pine after a woman. Pleasingly, Jungle do so in a far more smooth, funky and respectable manner than Robin Thicke.

While not necessarily providing anything new in terms of musical development, Crumbler and Son of a Gun are both solid additions to an album brimming with personality. Lucky I Got What I Want is another track that was released last year (as the B-side to The Heat). Ripples of synth and occasional bursts of guitar accompany the ubiquitous tones of ‘J’ in a track that is one of the most lyrically interesting on the album. Jungle close their debut with the lilting and ethereal Lemonade Lake, the duo’s deepest foray into electronic sounds thus far.

If someone had told me last year that two white guys from Shepherd’s Bush had started fusing soul, R&B, funk and electro, I would have been sceptical of the music’s quality. Surely that’s too many influences, too much to try and cram into a song. What is perhaps most impressive about Jungle, then, is that they have seamlessly intertwined these genres – and more – while making music that is structured, spacious and downright gorgeous. At times, Jungle tend to build too much from the same blueprint; they will need to vary their sound more, experiment and evolve if they are to retain the innovative and mysterious persona they have crafted for themselves. Nevertheless, Jungle is an impressive debut and one of my favourite albums of 2014 so far.

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