The Jungle by Plants and Animals – Album Review
by David Schuster
The Jungle is the exciting fifth album from the Canadian indie-rockers Plants and Animals. The trio, whose name sounds like the title of a Royal Institution Christmas lecture, are guitarists Warren Spicer, Nic Basque and drummer Matthew ‘Woody’ Woodley, all three of whom impressively double-up as vocalists.
Third up, ‘House on Fire’ begins with an ethereal synth pad, before a jaunty bass line and snare settle into a strong rhythm, augmented with wood block percussion accents. This and ‘Get My Mind’ are both strongly reminiscent of Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down the House’, appropriately enough, but not just in subject matter. The Heads record came out in 1983 and there’s a strong eighties vibe, created by a sequenced lead keyboard, which could have come straight from the fingers of Harold Faltermeyer. Not content with leaving it at that though, the band continue to add guitar and percussion nuances to a song that deserves radio play.
When I first listened to the immense ‘Sacrifice’, the fourth track, I actually said “Oh wow!” out loud, before listening to it again straight away, and then telling everyone I know on social media to do the same. It starts with a hammering ‘eight on the floor’ bass drum (playing not just every one of the four beats, but also the ‘and’ between each), with the slightly loose skinned resonance beloved of Bastille. Behind this is a simple bass line and vocals, lower in the mix, like the dark tones of Arcade Fire or The Cure at their very best.
This wall of sound continues unrelentingly until suddenly, at the chorus, it’s no longer there. For a second your mind is thrown off balance, and effect heightened by the band singing “La la, la la la”. It has the effect of focusing your attention on the lyrics, “I gave you the best years of my life. Volunteered on your behalf. Sacrifice it doesn’t matter”; the heartfelt plea of someone who has loved too much and been cast aside. This IS the best song I’ve heard in 2020.
‘Le Queens’, the first single to be taken from the record, is sung in French by guest vocalist Adele Trottier-Rivard, her rich, soporific voice adding to the chilled-out feeling, whilst a slide-guitar drifts in pitch, just enough to remind you that this is something just a little bit different. ‘In Your Eyes’ towards the end, and ‘Love That Boy’ towards the beginning, bookend the faster pieces giving the album overall a bell-curve of pace that works especially well.
The Jungle closes brilliantly with ‘Bold’, which successfully combines the laid-back feel of ‘Le Queens’ with the symphonic grandeur of ‘Sacrifice’ that really does leave you wanting more. Strong stuff.
So, why didn’t this score a 10, because ‘House on Fire’, ‘Bold’ and especially ‘Sacrifice’ all definitely deserve that accolade? Inexplicably, the band drop the ball a couple of times; ‘The Jungle’, not only the title track but also the opener, is fairly standard Euro-dance fare. ‘In Your Eyes’ takes experimentation too far, disintegrating into 20 seconds of discordant noodling. In a recording which only spans eight songs and 34 minutes the tracks cause an unnecessary loss of focus.
But these are only minor blemishes on an album to be treasured. Just like those Royal Institution Christmas lectures, Plants and Animals are clever, interesting and well worth investing your time in.