Runaway With Jungle Green whirs into existence with the fizzy “Our Love Isn’t Far Away” which leads with rolling drums, swaying along to singer/songwriter Andrew Smith’s gentle vocals. The album sounds like it should be emanating through a jukebox or backing a romantic coming-of-age indie film. The way each track bursts from the beginning makes it sound as if it doesn’t belong in our ground-down dystopian present. But the album was recorded only two years ago by Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen fame). After an intense nine-day studio session in LA, the band emerged with a uniquely charming album. Though it was recorded stationary, the band now plays round robin with no member assigned a specific moving part, the decision of which I’m told over a Saturday night FaceTime with the band is “arbitrary.” This only enhances Jungle Green’s playful nature, whoever plays that instrument? That’s what they’re feeling strongly about and that feeling is to be abided by. They combine a seemingly emotional rule with an incredibly tactful studio production. Runaway is a product of trusted intuition, the whole band having an extraordinary assurance in each other and their abilities. Though a foundational rhythm guides each track the band lends themselves to experimentation with vast layering. They move in a new direction sonically but explore a familiar feeling: love.
The concept of love is somewhat omnipotent on the album and when asked about it Smith answers “I’ve always written about it. I think we all want it and we all need it. I think people are meant to be with one another and that it’s a pretty timeless topic.” There’s no naivety to his response, just an authentic ideology. He then jokes “but these days I’m trying to write less about love and more about never making it.” There’s no one catalyst to the creation of Runaway With Jungle Green; it’s an organic exploration. But the feel-good is intentional, “I’m ready to be happy” says Smith. The simplicity may give Runaway a retro feel, but Jungle Green understands that reaching for unfounded nostalgia is a barren pursuit. They don’t fetishize the past like pop-leaning Greta Van Fleet—Jungle Green is just so earnest that it doesn’t assimilate to our current soundscape. There’s no ego on Runaway With Jungle Green, no algorithmic clamor. It’s part of what separates them from so many DIY bands. It’s an impossibly genuine album.
“Now That I’m With You” swings around the room with ease, lucky to be guided by the sturdy bass line. “I Need You” is shamelessly wanting, shifting between an old school simplistic love song and a boogying needing bop. The band’s humor comes through mid song with someone ad libbing “get me my pinot noir” and a brief laugh heard over the bridge. Though the most melancholy track on Runaway, “Cryin” is perhaps the best description of Jungle Green as a whole. The music video features the band from the perspective of a VHS tape as they appear decked out in assorted Village Discount ‘fits as the static of the “tape” flits in and out. In various states of emotional disarray they play seated on the floor and in front of a generous green screen, blurring together in transitional overlays and reconvening with their friends/extras, all as Alex Heaney bangs away at a large box that reads “piano.” This sums up the band’s dynamic pretty succinctly. Bassist Viv McCall tells me that for the nine days they were in the studio, there was barely an argument (let me remind you that there are six people in this band). At this point another band member lovingly chimes in that they observe the Purge. The group’s collaborative curiosity and varietal nature is audible.
Though Smith is the sole songwriter, there is never a song that serves only his purpose, each member is interwoven to serve the song; Whatever the song needs, Jungle Green offers. They allow for the lyrics to breathe. But the dynamic of so many bodies and instruments is heard, never tugging at each other but falling comfortably into place, happy to be there. In many ways the album is a version of Smith explored by other people. Each member elevates the other’s talent, but they’re exploring the same topic. “Please Run Away With Me” is a rollicking track with the jazzier vocals of Emma Collins that plea for the subject to leave their troubles behind and bask in the light of being in love. A testament to Jungle Green’s ability to make the present seem eternal. They suspend you in a temporary alleviation from inevitable environmental disaster and impending election. “All My Life” is the defacto funkiest track of the album with a grooving bass line and syncopated synths. Smith chimes “don’t you worry little mamma, I can make you feel alright,” sneaking in something a little more indulgent to his otherwise meeker songwriting. Though Smith’s voice is often hushed, he’s not tentative. Jungle Green modulates their intensities into something more enchanting than demanding. The final track, “Happiness” could be described as anti-capitalist if I thought there was a political motive. Here Smith sings “working 9-5, trying to stay alive, they deserve happiness as far as I can tell” in reference to grumpy cashiers. It’s a clear and buoyant end.
Runaway seems to understand that songs can be as simple as they appear, that we don’t have to mine ourselves or our environments for emotional exploitation. Sometimes we can just speak plainly, sometimes we can just focus on the heart. This is part of what makes the album so irresistible. A tender streak runs through Runaway With Jungle Green, the record churns sweetly at its core, unclenching the jaw most of us are used to muscling into place.