jungle

It was October last year when we spoke to a (then) mysterious duo who would only refer to themselves as ‘J’ and ‘T’ but were otherwise known as Jungle. Just two singles in, they had ideas for the future, centred around “human emotion” and “wanting to create a journey”. Yet, in an increasingly anonymous age of young artists propelled by a binary blanket of mystery, it was a concealment that didn’t feel too strange considering that the wider perception of the pair was a breakdancing six year-old.

Back then they told us: “You can start with four or five great singles but if the album’s poor, it’s a let down. We don’t want to let anyone down, we want to keep surprising them”, and buoyed by the viral success of ‘Platoon’, the vivid inner city imagery of ‘The Heat’, and infectious, funk feel-good of ‘Busy Earnin’’, that trident of rich, self-assured singles gave Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland the gilded platform to turn out the debut they aspired to make.

Hit play through the first six tracks and you’re locked into everything the early singles promised: hazy melodies, soulful vocals, blissed-out grooves and soul-tropes galore. Putting the forlorn ‘Drops’ aside, it’s an opening salvo that makes ‘Jungle’ feel like every summer jam you’ll need until the next round of flooding. And where the singles continue to push mainstream playlists, tracks like the down-tempo lament of ‘Lucky I Got What I Want’ lets the melancholy flame, the blaring soul ode of ‘Julia’ is both lovelorn and surprisingly triumphant, and even the Wonka-esque titled ‘Lemonade Lake’ breaks with the sparkle of sunshine bursting through the clouds.

Even on the album’s less successful tracks such as ‘Crumbler’ (Lionel-Richie-does-Vice-City) and ‘Smoking Pixels’ (a Wes Anderson oddity that would be better served drifting across the lobby of The Grand Budapest Hotel), there’s an immaculate sense of craft that makes it difficult to overlook how good the majority of the songs are when they standalone. It’s also easy to get too carried away.

Paradoxically, Jungle’s commitment to construct is also their slight undoing. Bona fide singles? Check. Sparkling consistency? Check. Surprises? Not really. Each track grows into its soul-heavy groove, the vocals soar and implore, the sirens wail, and the synth drizzles like honey but there’s a measured insistence, almost a quiet obsession to perfect and progress the same beat.

But let’s not get too hung up, because ‘Jungle’ encompasses everything a summer album should. It’s sun-kissed easy listening and stifling inner city heat; road-trips inspired by heatwaves and coastlines, and California girls with coconut oil tans and white sand smiles. Postcard perfect in many respects but even the great journeys stick to the tried and tested at some stage.

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