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U.K. neo-R&B stylists Jungle appeared in 2014, offering up a brilliant debut album surrounded by mystery. At that point, Jungle was the duo of bedroom producers Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson. Early on they kept their identities and any background information close to the vest, going by T and J and opting to let Jungle's bounding grooves and syrupy hooks speak for themselves. In the four years between their self-titled debut and sophomore album For Ever, much changed for Jungle. Instead of performing with laptops, the group expanded into a fully organic seven-piece live band and dropped their anonymous approach as album sales and popularity grew. Jungle relocated to Los Angeles for a time, and during the writing of For Ever, both McFarland and Lloyd-Watson went through serious breakups. These two conflicting factors seem to inform the songs here more than anything else, as relaxed, sun-dazzled funk conceals sentiments of heartbreak and loss throughout. The band decamped to Hollywood to work on the album, but recording sessions fizzled and coincided with relationship troubles. They returned to London to start over, but their time on the West Coast is namechecked on "Heavy, California" as well as "House in L.A." Jungle's slinky grooves and bright disco-soul style are sunnier and lighter on these songs, but lyrically they simmer with desperation and regret. Sugary samples are dancefloor-ready but the familiar falsetto vocals sing about distant partners, crashed dreams, and a scramble to find shelter from emotional pain. The skeletal bounce of "Cherry" revolves around shiny basslines and a repeated vocal hook of "You're never going to change me, I was already changing." The juxtaposition of heavy feelings and summery atmospheres creates a deeper poignancy, vulnerable and broken moments adding depth to Jungle's pop formula. The attention to conflicting impulses also keeps For Ever from the tropes of the standard breakup album. The light-hearted throwback groove of "Beat 54 (All Good Now)" twists melancholic regret for lost love into something nostalgic and warm, rendering the song's tearful plea strangely beautiful. These moments define the tone of the album and mark incredible development for the band. The 13-song track listing has some filler, and less-inspired songs like "Casio" and "Cosurmyne" could have been cut to sharpen the impact of the more emotionally direct material. Even still, For Ever's complex blend of bare emotions and gorgeous production makes it a huge step forward for Jungle. A band this successful could have left their private lives uninvestigated and turned in something more guarded and rote, but the palpable honesty of these songs is what makes them soar.
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