On their debut, the London duo Jungle finds a fresh slant on dusty old soul. Longtime friends Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland sing everything together over riffs they clearly crib from old R&B, funk and disco. But they play them as an adventurously arty post-punk band might, and then feed their performances through 21st-century production that turns it into something ghostly yet extraordinarily tense. Imagine blaxploitation soundtracks with the mutes permanently stuck in not just the trumpets but every single instrument, or a Marvin Gaye/Joy Division mash-up given a Lee “Scratch” Perry dub mix.
Mind you, nearly every cut is essentially the same. The drums are quiet but the bass is loud; the songs rarely change much from verse to chorus, and the only lyrics that stick resemble James Brown’s offhand vamps — “I can’t feel the heat,” “Too busy earnin’” and “I’ll knock you down brother.” This isn’t the kind of record that reveals much about their makers beyond the fact that their dads probably possess excellent record collections.
Nevertheless the whole thing is wickedly funky and psychedelic, revealing odd details with successive listens, like the weird bit of hysterical laughter that appears a third of the way through “Julia,” the closest this studiously abstract album comes to a conventional love song. Veterans of undistinguished recent shoegaze band Born Blonde, Lloyd-Watson and McFarland turn facelessness into an asset: They moan and plead, yet withhold any detail that would shatter their mystery.