Shrouded in a shrinking degree of anonymity, Jungle — a collective of musicians centered on Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, two producers who until recently were known only as J and T — managed to erupt in the United Kingdom on the basis of a few well-choreographed videos set to a string of catchy electro-funk singles. They’ve played SXSW and Glastonbury so far in 2014 and are scheduled for a full summer of touring, including a spot at Lollapalooza just two weeks after they release their debut LP. Everything has happened so fast for a band whose names were only revealed a few months ago. While anonymity can work as a tool for certain budding artists (see Burial and How to Dress Well), it feels strange applied to a group who makes such extroverted music. Jungle is pure party straight through, and I wonder if the group’s secrecy is only a gimmick meant to insinuate depth where there is none.
I mean, the songs are fine. We know that they were made on a computer, in part because the band said so, and in part because almost every instrument sounds like it’s canned in a laptop. Fake horns and real (?) slap bass carry the hook on Jungle’s most popular tune, “Busy Earnin'”, a song about how working for a living wage takes up a lot of time, I guess. As far as dance hits go, it’s strangely nonchalant; the lyrics reiterate the boring realities of life under capitalism without striving to transcend those realities. Jungle sounds like disco and yet isn’t really disco. If it were disco, it would want more.
“Busy Earnin'” passes pleasantly enough through its three minutes, but it’s more of a template for the rest of the album than a teaser. Jungle whisk their debut along at a uniform tempo, and the saturation of space throughout the album never seems to oscillate. There’s always a beat, some bass, some stuff thrown on top of the bass, and then two falsetto voices who don’t harmonize with each other but sing the same notes, like the Bee Gees sapped of their ability to harmonize, Space Jam-style. Often, sirens or air horns ring in the background. “Drops”, at least, encases a hollowness that allows its elements to bounce off of each other with discernible ballistics. On just about every other song, there’s way too much stuff flying through the air.
Jungle is a polished debut, but there’s no sense that J and T (or whoever is actually singing here) feel any sort of commitment to their lyrics, their arrangements, or anything beyond producing neatly packaged songs that slide them into festival slots. This is party music, and it will make money. Be wary of bands that will sell you four different branded articles of clothing before they’ll sell you their album.
Essential Tracks: “Drops”, Space Jam: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture