The lead-up to U.K. indie/neo-funk act Jungle's self-titled debut album was one of highly calculated mystery. The band came out of the ether first in the form of several videos featuring mostly dancers but no bandmembers. Stills from these videos were subsequently used as press photos and the membership of the band was kept almost entirely anonymous. The public was informed only that the band's core centered around collaborative efforts by two producers known simply as "J" and "T." Underneath these layers of intrigue and obscurity were several singles of immensely atmospheric neo-soul, floating and haunted falsetto vocals riding rhythmic waves made up of greasy throwback basslines, vintage drum machine clicks, and understated samples, all skillfully arranged into a perfect pop package. Leadoff track "The Heat" is one of the best examples of this formula, with the song's various hooks glued together with barely audible samples of police sirens and various electronic textures giving more weight to the song's interlocking melodies. Other singles like "Busy Earnin'" and "Platoon" follow a similar framework, building on pseudo-disco rhythms and complementing strange synth outbursts with crooning, breathless vocals sounding lifted right from a Marvin Gaye album. The singles are catchy and remarkably strong, melding hooky songwriting with odd production that perfectly evokes some dreamlike vision of rainy London back alleys where these songs' characters may live. For a moment, Jungle seems like it may be coasting on the strength of its four or five standout singles, but tracks like the minimal, James Blake-esque "Drops," the '80s-tinged synth pop of "Julia," and the driving groove of "Accelerate" all prove to be equally impressive, even if not as immediate as more detailed productions like "Time." Jungle is to be taken as a complete statement, and one that seems to reveal its nuances with repeat listens. The details of bandmember identities and backgrounds quickly become extraneous in light of the wealth of intriguing sounds presented on this incredibly well-constructed debut.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas