Jungle, Volcano review: Playful, super-cool and the hippest album of 2023

Teeming with appearances from acts including Channel Tres and Roots Manuva, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland’s new record no longer sees the pair uneasily centre stage

Helen Brown
Thursday 10 August 2023 13:30 BST
The Mercury-nominated producer duo Jungle have returned with a delicious new record
The Mercury-nominated producer duo Jungle have returned with a delicious new record (Supplied)

Videos for the advance singles from Jungle’s brilliant third album – Volcano – all show brief snatches of the Mercury-shortlisted producer duo in a Seventies-style, teak wood-pannelled office. Their backs are to the camera, a coil of smoke rises from an ashtray as they gaze over a vintage mixing desk and reel-to-reel machine at a bank of chunky old television sets like budget Bond villains. Their dancers and collaborators (including Roots Manuva, Erick the Architect and Channel Tres) all pop up on screens as smoothly convex as the curved notes that slip from the record’s funk flutes and guitars.

From the deep, knee-bending bass plunges of opener “Us Against the World” to the trippy-sweet, Pearl’n’Dean-on-helium harmonies of closer “Pretty Little Things” (featuring Bas), the Volcano vibe is pure, hair-down afterparty. It finds old friends Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland no longer forcing themselves into the singing frontmen roles they say they’ve found uncomfortable in the past. Instead, they’re kicking back and curating their super-cool, retro-electro-soul from behind the scenes. Taking the pressure off has allowed them to be more relaxed, letting their stylishly engineered music roll, spin, twist and recline like those designer swivel chairs. It’s a playful, freeing mood that translates to the listening experience, encouraging you to dance like nobody’s watching.

It’s hard to lift high points from these 14 tracks because they blend into such a seamlessly evolving set – with so many clever little touches stitched into the mix. Lydia Kitto’s lead vocals (and sly flute grooves) are a giddy and flexible unifying feature. There’s an urgent, ragged scratch to her passionate declarations on “Us Against the World”. As the pulse picks up with the distorted, basement club beat and handclaps of “Holding On”, she’s blasé as she consents: “I can dance around for a little bit…”

On “Candle Flame” she channels Minnie Riperton’s technicolour high notes and Smokey Robinson’s breezy heartache. Her sugar is perfectly offset by Erick the Architect’s punchy flow. Smooth-talking Channel Tres invites her to the backseat of his Tesla on the smoochy, reggae-slung “I’ve Been in Love”. Things get a little beach-bossa with the acoustic guitar and wooden percussion of “Back on 74”. But she’s fully in the driving seat on the fantastic “You Ain’t No Celebrity” – the vocal hooks keep layering up as Kitto shakes her maracas and repeats, “Relax and call your lawyer”, while Roots Manuva’s purring in your other ear.

It’s like being in an old movie and the backward-spooling loops in the next track, “Coming Back”, feels like you’ve fallen into the dream sequence. The funk guitar and baggy beats of “Problemz” channel the warm, street corner ambience of early Nineties hip-hop: Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest. Then “Good at Breaking Hearts” (featuring JNR Williams) goes for solid, vinyl soul as Williams’ crackle-glazed croon sees him yearning for paradise over the sound of waves lapping a tropical shore.

There’s so much deliciously analogue texture to cherish here – all bakelite, mahogany, coconut shells and bougainvillea, with woodwind you could drink and percussion you could tuck behind your ear. It’s 2023’s hippest release. Get up, get down, kick back to it.

‘Volcano’ is out on August 11

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