It’s been just under 4 years since Jungle released their eponymous debut. All things considered, that’s definitely long enough for fans to wait for new music from the elusive group. Yesterday, amid an uncharacteristic flurry of social media activity, they broke their silence, releasing new singles ‘Happy Man’ and ‘House in LA’, much to the excitement of their dedicated following.
Let’s put this into perspective – this isn’t just any old New Music Wednesday release. Jungle are legend. ‘Jungle’ is legend. The band’s appearance on the scene was accompanied by a record of such perfection, such originality, that those of us who fell under its spell have spent the intervening years desperately searching for something, anything, that sounds like it. You don’t listen to Jungle – you get your fix.
So in the manner of acolytes awaiting the next pronouncement of their prophet, we approach the new music with a mixture of fear and excitement. How do you follow ‘Busy Earnin’’ and ‘Julia’? Has the magic survived? Are the south London bedroom warriors of 2014 still present in the world-conquerors that Jungle have become? Man, is it going to make us groove the same?
After 12 hours of listening time, the answer is emphatically, wonderfully yes.
‘Happy Man’ is a prowling vamp in the same vein as ‘Time’, abseiling down an exquisitely syncopated walking bassline; a supercooled dancefloor-filler lifted to greater heights by Jungle’s trademark scattering of analogue samples and blue note vocal harmonies.
‘House in LA’, by contrast, begins on a simple piano-and-vocal wail before landing on the main riff, a glacially hefty subwoof of a chord progression that begs you to dance and to weep at the same time. Slow and menacing, it conjures the danger of trap while toying with the melodicism of blue-eyed soul.
The power of Jungle’s music has always resided in the masterful way they mix euphoria and depression. In the power of the beat and the tenderness of the vocals they create an atmosphere all their own: club and lonely lookout combined, group carnival and gloomy introversion brought together in fruitful contradiction.
The new singles take up that mission and fulfil it beautifully. ‘House in LA’ is a paranoid fever dream, lazy and scary and wistful. ‘Happy Man’ gives you plenty to move to, but the lyrics needle at the same crushing suburban angst that drove ‘Busy Earnin’’. These songs are dark, they’re funky and, as ever, they’re in a league of their own.
You could accuse Jungle of artistic stagnation on these tunes. They’re cut from the exact same cloth as the first album. But that would be to miss the point. That cloth is some of the best material that the British scene has seen in years. The fear was never that Jungle wouldn’t change enough on their sophomore release – it was that they would change too much.
‘Happy Man’ and ‘House in LA’ put those fears firmly to bed. By this reckoning, Jungle mk.2 is set to be a stomping continuation of form.