Album Review: The Blaze – Jungle

[Animal63; 2023]

The formula for success in the music industry is as hard to nail down as winning a lottery or finding a unicorn. It is not often that a band takes off after releasing a debut single on a compilation album and follow it with a six-track EP that catapults them onto the Coachella lineup the following year. This is the story of the cousin duo, Guillaume and Jonathan Alric, known as The Blaze

Their first single, “Virile” appeared on Bromance Records’ compilation: Homieland, Vol. 2 in 2016. In 2017, they released their EP, Territory then played Coachella in spring 2018. They were so popular, the duo harnessed a two-page spread in the Sunday New York Times published a month before the release of their first full album, DANCEHALL, in 2018. DANCEHALL fell flat but they played festival after festival, large venues, and sold out shows for the four years following. According to the band, this took its toll, “after the release of our first album DANCEHALL, we spent four years playing live shows around the world and the experience marked us deeply,” they said in the press release for this new album. “Since then, we write music thinking about sharing it live with you. We were willing to keep the introspective aspect our music carries, while keeping in mind that people also come to dance when they see us perform.” Their music has been described as “sensitive EDM”; The Times calls it “patient, ethereal electronic music,” “visceral and agonizingly pretty.”  Makes sense for a pair whose name channels warmth, love, and hope.

The Blaze are known for their emotive video content. Jonathan went to film school in Brussels. He once asked Guillaime to help him with a project for school and the rest is history. The video for “Virile” is clocking in at 20 million views today which means about 18 million views in the last seven years. All their videos play as cinema. It is hard to separate the visuals from the music.

 “Lullaby” is the opener on second album, JUNGLE. As they are known for, The Blaze gently introduce the album with tinkling ivories, this time a looped piano. Then comes the sparse percussion that builds into a spacious vocal. This sweet track has the earmarks of a rebirth after a long hibernation. A welcomed retreat from pitched-down vocals of so many of their previous songs. It evolves into a hip-shaker to warm-up the album.

They give us an almost Odesza-like sound that shifts into a crunchy synth anthemic moment in “Clash”.  Although the repetitions of “this is the right time” in the chorus become monotonous, the track is energetic and full of force so it is forgivable. The gentle breakdowns are successful. In “Lonely”, organ-like synths build into a bass heavy groove that opens up into another paean-styled vocal. A big, compressed kick drum pulses underneath the heavily sidechained music: a common trick throughout the album.

The album includes a handful of post-rave tracks. “Dreamer” begins all warm and fuzzy, then switches gears with post-rave air raid sounds and tribal drums. The kick and bass set a familiar house groove that sets up the smooth, dreamy vocal, all counterposed against big room EDM synth stabs. “Siren” is full of house basslines and synths that build and take the energy up again and again. Overdriven samples and synths punctuate the climax but it maintains the ambient undertones omnipresent throughout JUNGLE.

“Eyes” was the first single from JUNGLE released in the summer of 2022. It feels reminiscent of a DANCEHALL track with its pitched-down vocals, then in a minute or so a bed or warm synths sooth the ear. It turns into a staggering beat paying homage to Disclosure. “Madly” is another pitched-down vocal – the vocals in other tracks are so lovely, you wonder why the return to this style – but wobbly synths and an ambient pad redeem the track. The cool reverse shaker sounds in “Haze” stand out and make me think of Salt Bae, a pretty piano intro and vocals drenched in reverb give way to a stomping beat, driving bass line and percussive synths. Again, “Bloom” uses the heavily processed vocal with the simple beat and groove giving just enough energy to push this track towards the dance floor. The main synth finally takes the energy over the top.

The finale opens with gorgeous pads and the prettiest vocals on the album. “Dust” uses vocal delays that tail off into oblivion as the kick drum heartbeat slowly ramps up and the synths wind their way towards the final peak of the JUNGLE experience. This is an example of a successful build in a dance track. Vocals are not needed in the back half, just those layers punctuated by a right-on-the-edge-of-piercing synth. You can imagine this one finishing their sets. 

JUNGLE is a throwback to dancehall days; think of a Paris guinguette. It is a feel-good album, with inspiring intros to get you onto the dancefloor and a keep-you-there vibe. We can forgive the occasional lack of dynamism and trivial lyrics because they capture you within the first minute of each track. While familiar, fortunately, their vocals on the album only flirt with the pitched-down of songs past so if the style turned you off from the first two JUNGLE singles, don’t let that deter you from giving the rest of the album a try. As an album it’s meant to be played live, and their upcoming shows should not be missed. It might even make the goats dance.