Jungle / Empress Of

The Imperial, Vancouver BC, October 14

Jungle / Empress OfThe Imperial, Vancouver BC, October 14
Photo: Jashua Peter Grafstein
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With an act named Jungle, it's easy to conjure ideas of UK pirate radio and music from '90s subcultures. Behind the name are two guys who have very little to do with breakbeats and MCs except for the veil of anonymity they have tried to preserve. Instead, the duo have turned heads with a smattering of highly buzzed-about singles breathing some urban dance-infused life into funk and R&B.

It's been a bit over a year since their breakout, and the duo have since added some context to their acclaimed singles with a self-titled album. Unfortunately, a flurry of lukewarm reviews of the debut seemed to reveal some of the mystique behind Jungle. The critics didn't ruin it for everyone, it seems, as the pair were welcomed to a sold out venue on their first visit to Vancouver.

The opening act, Empress Of, was represented by the shy face of Lorely Rodriguez, who broke the ice with her humbleness. As she launched into her subdued songs, her versatile voice soared impressively over fields of lush synths. In darker and more sinister moments, Rodriguez's tone evoked the piercing delivery of the Knife, while her moments of airy, silvery highs were what many hoped for in vain from Grimes' ill-fated follow up to Genesis. Despite some roughness around the edges, the young empress managed to impress and mobilize an audience that was clearly gung-ho about the headlining act.

Jungle dove straight into the swelter of one of their original hits, "The Heat." Led by the thick submerged sounds of a Hammond organ and driven by loose, groovy percussion, the borderline-falsetto voices of J and T were unmistakably sexy. J's voice was prominently featured on "Drops," undressed from its studio colourings and projecting powerfully at the limit of his range.

Backed by a full band, including a stellar pair of background vocalists, the duo's take on modern funk sounded clean and polished. Elements of Soul Train-era glamour were simplified to accompany irresistibly catchy hooks. With their deeply groovy bass lines and tight rhythms bathed in tropical lighting, the focus was clearly towards the dance floor, and the invitation to dance was accepted by a Vancouver audience in need of a healthy post-thanksgiving calorie burn.

Shy of an hour into the set, however, the distinction between the duo's songs grew blurrier. The hooks seemed to follow the same shapes, and it seemed the crowd had gotten enough of "I can't get enough." Jungle seemed most inspired when playing their original singles that drove so much internet curiosity in their direction, yet content from their debut LP did little to add to their sound.
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