Jungle – For Ever: “Dreamy songs and straight-up funk jams”
From our very own concrete jungle (Shepherd’s Bush), Jungle have been busy earnin’ a reputation as one of the most highly-sought British funk bands since, er, Jamiroquai. And while for the general public news of the jungle is rarely good – deforestation, endangered species being pushed to their limits, the Calais refugee crisis – for the music reviewer, news of Jungle is an entirely different matter, their eponymous debut being one of 2014’s sexiest albums made by white people. So it was with great expectation and excitement that London Student approached For Ever, which was recorded after Jungle were briefly enticed by the evanescent charms of LA, only to see through the mirage and flee back to West London. It does not disappoint.
The album opens with the aptly named ‘Smile’. The track is driven by a Buddy Rich-esque drum fill, before co-frontmen Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson deploy their truest falsettos to tell us how the “world feels a little better” when their lovers smile. This track in particular channels Primal Scream’s psychedelic-hippy-rave good vibes. ‘Smile’ is an early example of the richness of sound that Jungle are capable of achieving, by virtue of being a septet combined with tapped creativity. Indeed, their co-ordinated complexity is a trademark of the album, adding real depth to tracks like ‘Cherry’ (which owes thanks to Chet Faker), ‘Heavy, California’, ‘Mama Oh No’ (Mama Oh YES, this is an exceptional song!) and the ultimate song on the album, ‘Pray’.
// Note to the Reader (and to Jungle themselves): Have you ever accidentally played two songs on your laptop at the same time? Maybe one through YouTube and the other through Spotify? Usually, the result would be, at best, a messy, disjointed din, or at worst, something like Kanye’s recent discography. However, should you play ‘Pray’ at the same time as Nicholas Dodd’s ‘Solange’ from Casino Royale , you’d be in for a treat (don’t ask how I came to find this out). //
The album was preceded by lead single ‘Happy Man’, which has a classic soul core of vintage-crackle drums, descending bass line and film-score strings. It reads like a sultrier version of their breakout hit ‘Busy Earnin’’, with the same skeptical glance at materialism, its chorus listing all the things you aspire to buy that “Won’t mean nothing”. Its double A-side counterpart ‘House in LA’, is more representative of Jungle’s hypnotic side. The song washes over the listener with samples and sound effects prioritized rather than a live band feel. They sing of spending “Two whole years on the re-write” which could refer to the band’s post-LA changes to their music, or their very lifestyles. The power of the ethereal tracks here, which all come in a five-track run of ‘House in LA’, ‘Give Over’, ‘Cosurmyne’, ‘Home’, and ‘(More and More) It Ain’t Easy’, is in their accord – these songs drift from one into the other. And this renders the album nicely balanced, with the large big hitting numbers interspaced between easy-listening, mid-tempo dream-scapes. This contrast is used to great effect by positioning ‘Casio’ (simultaneously my most and least favorite song about calculators in current circulation) prior to the fuller ‘Mama Oh No’.
For the large part, the history of funk and soul runs parallel to the use of the voice as an instrument. Instead of lyrics or tone used as a counterweight, or as easily distinguishable to and from the rest of the band, funk seeks a harmony between vocals and instruments. Jungle have taken this philosophy further in For Ever, often drowning out the vocals, which are used more for rhythmic purposes than for any lyrical content, in place of keyboard or samples. Utilising these techniques to great effect, Jungle have been able to successfully fit the more ephemeral, dreamy songs together with straight-up funk jams. By simply rearranging the balance of vocals and instrumentals, they achieve a variety of different sounds and feels in one album, without any two songs feeling particularly jarring.
Often remarked upon are the similarities between Tame Impala and Jungle. Less often drawn upon is that with Tame Impala in Australia and Jungle in London, planet Earth has become merely a psychedelic funk sandwich. Both groups of course owe a huge debt to Black musicians – but while Tame Impala’s channeling of Skull Snaps has avoided concerns of appropriation because it is just one ingredient in what is clearly a personal, original sound, Jungle’s reverence for Funkadelic, Prince, and Chic has previously led to such a wholesale co-opting of Black sonics and imagery that they have been accused of elaborate Blackface. And authenticity is important in music – so the turn towards ethereal psych on For Ever then not only leads to some tasty music, it means Jungle can’t be accused of just borrowing Black social capital while keeping their White social privilege anymore.