Appropriation is the name of the game. It always has been. From music to painting, film to literature, what is new, brilliant, beautiful, groundbreaking, has been built using the techniques, materials, or blueprints of our forebears. We can expand upon what is there, or we can fill perceived voids with things to make them “ours.” Enter Jungle, a band that has done both.
Jungle is one of the more exciting bands we have had the good fortune of coming across this year. They are a UK collective very aptly described as “modern soul,” building upon classic funk and soul structures and topics while revitalizing them with subtle and not-so-subtle well-produced textures. Each track will undoubtedly put a hop in your step and a wiggle in your rear with infectious melodies and grooving rhythms. The group grew from the friendship of its founding members, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, in 2013. They wasted no time releasing their first single and subsequently getting signed onto XL recordings, which brings us to their spectacular eponymous debut record, Jungle.
A more apt name for a group or record I don’t think I’ve yet heard. The record is humid and hums with life. A jungle in every sense, teeming with hierarchies all it’s own, in a bonafide ecosystem of sound created by the London based collective. The imagery there may suggest a rainforest or at the very least some lush, untouched expanse. Well, to the contrary, Jungle explores the manipulated and the beauty that lies therein. The album begins with “Heat,” building a gray, overcast portrait of a concrete British jungle that serves to oversaturate their early, nuanced sonic experimentation. These small offerings, like that brilliantly colored bit of clothing on a bleak washed out day, pop despite their relative scale. These come in the form of various samples that the listener ends up rifling through to discover that each is unique, like a grain of sand, that can pile together so perfectly so as to create the beach. Or perhaps, as the album’s dreamy intermission is titled “Smoking Pixels,” a more pertinent metaphor would compare to individual pixels faithfully emitting the right hue to effect the masterpiece that appears on a screen.
This motif of short sounds cooperating with one another runs through the whole record and indeed is one of the landmarks of their sound. I don’t mean that all the sounds are exceptionally short, but rather that they interact with one another like a large conversation. When some instruments or samples are “talking,” others wait and listen patiently. Tracks like “Drops” serve as phenomenal examples of this dialogue. Here I can imagine a room full of souls engaging in a geometrically perfect web of conversation that lulls and swells to collective cues of the unconscious.
Jungle’s music videos, one of which has conveniently been included below, were directed by the founding members and are apt visual mirrors to their aural accomplishments. Simple concepts woven with imagination, purpose, and deft ability.
Jungle has built a record that is nostalgic to an era where funk and soul were king and that is reminiscent of powerhouse predecessors such as TV on the Radio, James Blake, and Metronomy. We have been dancing to this record on repeat. There is no end in sight and you will not hear a complaint uttered from our lips. These are tunes that deserve your hip’s faithful, repeated gyrations, and who are you to deny yourself what will undeniably be one of the landmark listening experiences of your year?