The elusive London duo's debut is a surefire summer party-starter but comes with a subtle dark side
Jungle strutted from the internet shrouded in a very modern mystery, two enigmas called J and T hidden among crowds of retro-futurist fashionistas in their publicity shots and playing shows at London’s Village Underground deep in shadow. They expensively mimicked viral videos with their clips for ‘Platoon’ and ‘The Heat’ featuring breakdancing kids and synchronised rollerskaters and their music merged the cool and the naff with a cult-like panache: Prince, The Bee Gees, The xx, Bon Iver, Portishead, Scissor Sisters, krautrock, Curtis Mayfield, ELO, P-Funk, MGMT psychedelia, Junior Senior, Snoop Dogg, Disclosure, Tron. Most of all, they represented the internet’s Utopian fantasy of a culture discovered and driven by the plugged-in masses, the conceit that you can make something brilliant, sneak it quietly online with zero publicity and millions will instantly descend upon it like swarms of piranha to a bloody sack of clickbait.
In fact, the question of whether Jungle’s rise was the result of DIY talent and nous that got them noticed by label XL or a web-savvy soft marketing campaign is pretty much the only mystery left. We now know that T and J are Tom McFarland and Joshua Lloyd-Watson, childhood skater friends from Shepherd’s Bush with a history of dissecting classic records together and playing reformed Britpop in a band called Born Blonde, once memorably described as “the baggy, space-rock Brother”. Such exposure should crush the intrigue and wonder, but now they’ve only gone and made the pop-art album of the summer.
‘Jungle’ is a record designed to seep from barbeques the breadth of 2014, an ultra-modern rewiring of funk for Generation Y. The falsetto space funk of opener ‘The Heat’, ‘Platoon’ and the irrepressible ‘Busy Earnin’’ you’ll know already, and they’re matched strut-for-strut by ‘Time’ and ‘Julia’ to make a swathe of colourful party pumpers destined to ram this year’s festival tents like Disclosure touring Trinidad, with their distorted steel drums, tropical crackles and washes of sparkling-surf synth.
What’s really intriguing about ‘Jungle’, though, is its darker side. There’s a tone of inner-city malaise, romantic ruin and psychedelic alienation to a raft of its tracks that speaks to those modern urbanites feeling screen-wiped and robbed of opportunities, busy earnin’ for nothing. It’s the sound of a 21st Century ‘What’s Going On’, a sister-piece to Bobby Womack’s Albarn-produced ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’, and it’s encapsulated in the atmospheric interlude ‘Smoking Pixels’, a Morricone reboot resembling a electro-fried amalgam of The Beatles’ ‘Long, Long, Long’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ and The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’. But it also infects the lovelorn ‘Julia’ with a trip-hop undertone and ‘Accelerate’ with boudoir broodiness. It drips through the downbeat future jazz of ‘Drops’ and 110th Street shuffle ‘Son Of A Gun’ and throbs at the bruised heart of ‘Lucky I Got What I Want’. Indeed, from jubilant beginnings, ‘Jungle’ seems to follow the collapse of a relationship in its latter half and ends in heartbroken desolation, sat alone on the edge of ‘Lemonade Lake’ lamenting “every day and every night/’Cos I don’t know what went wrong/I miss you”. A rounded future pop record then; funky and reflective, ominous and ecstatic, as pouty as it is party.