Adding to the recent wave of acts shrouded in mystery, enigmatic retro-futuristic soul duo Jungle has had everyone speculating about their identity over the past twelve months, thanks to a series of inventive choreography-based promos which have handed over the spotlight to breakdancing six-year-olds and urban roller-skaters.
The eventual reveal that the pair weren’t Daft Punk, Justice or any other French electro wizards, but in fact two former members of Britpop also-rans Born Blonde, may have been slightly underwhelming. But unlike fellow video specialists OK Go, who often appear to focus their energy more on their viral-friendly dance routines than their actual music, Tom McFarland and Joshua Lloyd-Watson’s self-titled debut album is anything but.
Indeed, despite the wave of expectation surrounding Jungle, the artists once known as simply J and T haven’t buckled under the pressure and instead have impressively delivered one of this year’s most perfect summer records thanks to a groove-laden melting pot of psychedelia, indie-disco, electro-soul, jazz and old-school funk that’s almost impossible not to dance along to.
The singles are undoubtedly the high point, from the falsetto-led space-funk of opener “The Heat” to the New Order-esque basslines and Studio 54 grooves of “Platoon,” to possibly the slinkiest reflection on the credit crunch ever recorded, “Busy Earnin’,” a sublime slice of old-school soul featuring a chirruping brass hook which sounds like it could have been lifted from a long-lost Stax classic.
But there are plenty of gems elsewhere. The Ennio Morricone-esque whistling hooks and atmospheric guitar twangs ensure that “Smoking Pixels” is one of those rare interludes that actually adds something to a record, rather than serving as mere filler. The velvety smooth “Drops” evokes the socially conscious soul of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, while “Lemonade Lake” brings the party to a surprisingly emotional close with its woozy synth-led meditation on heartbreak.
The meandering funk of “Son Of A Gun,” which is not so much laid-back but downright lethargic, and the Afrobeat-lite “Crumbler,” not to mention the slightly samey production, mean that Jungle isn’t quite the bona-fide classic that everyone had hoped for. But it’s still a triumphant start from a band who are unlikely to remain anonymous for much longer.