One of the things that I was excited to do with the new album from Jane n the Jungle, Concrete Jungle, was be able to sit and listen to it with my step-daughter when she came for one of her summer visits. It just worked out, that she and my step-son, were at our place for the All Ages Release Show at Crescent Ballroom. We were pretty excited, as it was almost exactly two years from the first time I had taken my kids to see JntJ, also at Crescent. My kids are squarely ‘still in the jungle’.
So we bought the CD and rocked out to the stellar performances at the live show. We had a really great time: the crowd was alive, the music was great, the bands chosen were great assets to the night, and we had a great night out as a family.
The following Friday afternoon, Jillian, who is a fourteen-year-old Sophomore, and I sat down to listen to Concrete Jungle. Here is what she had to say in…purple.
Little Blue: Unquestionable rock song with distinguishable lyrics (not a fan of Scream-o). Even when Jordan White gets emotional, and at times screams, it is always focused and controlled in a way that can be understood. The story of the song makes the imagery very vibrant, even though it is hard to actually know exactly what is going on. I absolutely love the guitar in this song, and it is a great rocking song to start the record.
(Incidentally, in my newest book of fiction stories, Ghost Songs, I have chosen moments of inspiration from 16 songs from local artists. This song, with its intense imagery and seemingly hurt character, mixed really nicely with a nod to the old movie Eddie & the Cruisers, and once I took it to the supernatural level…. Little Blue inspired a really cool story that goes a completely different direction.)
Unicorn: The drums come to the forefront of this song. It seems to me that the song has two different takes on the word Unicorn…. 1) seems to be an unattainable dream, or something that is not possible to find, and 2) seems to be a story of isolation… oneness. Loneliness. The song going back and fourth in tempo from being almost quiet and understated to faster and more upbeat seems to draw attention to these two meanings.
(One of the things that I was really digging about listening to an album and taking notes with my daughter, is that we picked up on a lot of the same things. With lines in the chorus like, We’re not red/ We’re not blue, it is hard to not see a political spin on the song, but the video (amazingly acted by Shadow Mountain High School Drama) pushes the narrative of teen isolation and bullying. Daughter-of-step is a smart cookie.)
Tonight: This is another song that utilizes the range of Jordan’s voice over her very thoughtful lyrics. She goes from soft to scream often on this record, and there are quite a few songs that feel slower in tempo, so it adds this sharp contrast. This one has a really calm beginning, and the guitar never changes, but there are parts where the lyrics get faster and almost gain a harsh tone. Even when the guitar surges up beneath Jordan as she builds to the scream, it never over takes her as the most powerful voice in the song.
(For me, I love that the first ‘post-Idol’ release from JntJ is a pronounced celebration of who they are, not who Idol may have wanted them to be. This is important, and unique. Look at past contestants on the show. Look at who they were previous, and the somewhat tonal shift of who they are after. It is obvious, if you look. And it not the case with JntJ. Instead, you get a pronounced proclamation of their own personality, and who they are is beautiful.)
Island: For me, the first thing I love about Jordan White is her incredibly insightful lyrics. She is deep. She is not about fluff and silliness. (I love this kid, btw!) One of the real cool changes from their first record is that she has really played with the song constructions. They are not straight forward verse/ chorus and sometimes, the lyrics are very complicated in their delivery. The other thing I really liked about this song was how clear and distinct all of the different instruments are in the mix. You can pick out everybody’s parts.
(Later in this review we are going to talk about how this record almost becomes two possible roads through the jungle, if you take the previous singles into account. Changing just one song on this record would change the tone, that path, considerably. Keep that in mind, as both Jillian and I centered on this song being the fork in the road.)
Spanish Lullaby/ Beach on Fire: On the record this is listed as two separate tracks, but Spanish Lullaby is really the Spanish guitar intro to Beach on Fire. It seems like they are one song, and they perform it that way also. This song is just so pretty! It blends different styles and genres, and comes off feeling both authentic and fresh. I again just love Jordan’s poetic lyrics.
(Jillian has talked about lyrics and delivery a lot here. Allow me to offer an example. We all know I am a huge fan of Roger Clyne, and one of the things that he does really well is pack A LOT of words and ideas into a song. And he can sing them, clearly! Have you ever really tried to sing along to a few of those…. he has some speed in those chops! Jordan reminds me of that, not only in delivery, but her ability to write incredibly poignant lyrical songs that come across more as prose poetry than standard rhyming couplets set into verses.)
Lion: A solid story telling, narrative rock song. This is the most rocking song on the album after Little Blue, but this one is not as simple. There is more going on underneath the layers of this song. The drums and guitar are just fantastic in this song as well, could totally imagine hearing it on the radio.
(Two things I really liked about this song: first, its very polished and clear verse structure over a complicated chorus. This is opposite of most pop/ rock songs. Second, on the recording of Concrete Jungle several tracks use backing vocals, which I really like. It is different that JntJ’s live sound, but it does not detract from the power of Jordan’s vocal. If anything, it strengthens it.)
Concrete Jungle: Super complicated lyrics. But again they are clear, and invite multiple listens. This song gains a lot of power by the end, but it seems to start a bit slow. And the idea of Jordan fighting her way in this Concrete Jungle is the most clear in this song.
Ryan: On that note, do you think that this record is a concept album… does it tell a story above and beyond itself?
Jillian: Yes, but it is more about her. It is like Jordan is the character and these are her stories of scrapping through the life of a performing artist. It is not the same as Rush’s Clockwork Angels that tells a separate and interweaving story. I think it is more of a thematic record than a concept record.
(Have I mentioned I love this kid!)
One Spark: This is another slow song, and it is beautiful. Clear and very emotional. I like it, and it is obviously very personal. But there are a lot of slow songs on this record. I like this one though…. Brian was right to get her to keep it on the record.
(As you listen your way through the record, making your way through the Concrete Jungle, you start to see two paths. There is almost a path of pain, or remorse, and a path of anger, or determination. Both of those paths are strong, and well mapped out, but in the end, you feel that overall, the path of pain was where you were taken. We talk about this again at the end of this review.)
Enough: I really liked the personal connection and story about Jordan’s sister who is getting married and how this was Jordan’s song to her. It is a great song about sisterhood, and it is beautiful. But again… it is slower in tempo.
(Many of the songs on this record have this range in both vocal and tempo… they go from being slower songs to having faster bridges or faster double endings at the end of the song. Individually, that is awesome, and live, I love it! But listening to it as an album, at one listen, it becomes at times repetitive. The mix of that tempo change, on this particular song, I found a bit distracting.)
Love You’re Getting Old: By the end of the record, I was ready for the song to start off slower and speed up at parts especially by the end. I also thought the marching band quality of the drums was distracting. It was not one of my favorites on the album.
(For me, it was another pretty song. Another complicated song with intricate parts, even if those parts were starting to get a bit predictable.)
Note: One of the things that is constantly on my mind while writing about, interviewing, and experiencing these bands and their music is the business of making art. I talk about that a lot, because it applies to so many more of us than just musicians. These lessons can inspire and inform the entire community of independent artists. That said, in my recent interview with Corey Gloden (of Wyves) and Kevin Loyd (of Banana Gun), we talked about the model of producing music. The idea of releasing singles, digitally, on a very consistent basis (similar to the release of 45s in the Golden Age of Radio). While touring and promoting these new singles, you are working on the album that will follow. So in effect, you create a steady steam of music that completely amplifies your catalog by the time that album is released. This is exactly what Jane ‘n the Jungle have done. Since their release of their debut EP, they have spent two years releasing music, taking their message of independence to American Idol, and writing a song of vindication to Katy Perry. But in that time…. they were laying the ground work to explode from a band with one EP and a few singles, to a band that could hold court at Crescent Ballroom for over an hour, and only play one cover all night, Zombie: an an encore. That is pretty stellar.
Singles / B-Sides
Killed Someone: Similar to Unicorn. It is a solid song. Has a great beat, but it seems like it would be the B-Side to that song. In terms of theme.
Wild Side: Fast and fun. I can totally see this song being attached to Lion or Little Blue.
One Time: Very slow. I love Jordan’s lyrics, but a lot of the slower songs can lag a bit. I like the faster rock songs better overall.
Open Road: I bet you love this song!
(She is right. But i also think that it fits very nicely into the Concrete Jungle theme.)
Fire Away: Another solid rock n roll song. I can see this one being attached to the other one of Little Blue or Lion.
As we completed our listen of all 16(15) New Songs since the release of the Jane ‘n the Jungle EP, our take away was that Concrete Jungle was almost like a pathway, a road, diverging in a wood, but instead of a wood, it was the city. The city with its looming walls, its seething heart, its attitude, and its weaving webs of intrigue and motivation. And in that Concrete Jungle, this road converges, one side could be harder edged, rockier, and hit with more of a solid rock punch. The other was softer, more intimate, more from the gut and open. Either road would lead to a great rock album. Knowing this, and knowing the journey the band took in creating this record, and the process of cutting through that jungle to get to the beating heart beneath, I would almost say that this could be seen as a double album. And if listen to as such, a much fuller, and more comprehensive vision of the band Jane ‘n the Jungle has evolved into…. becomes vibrantly apparent.
In the end, we both really liked Concrete Jungle. It is a stellar album, incredibly detailed in its production, solidly mixed, and it showcases the awesome talents of each member of the band. That said, both Jillian and I felt that the entire path through the jungle would have been altered with perhaps including one of the faster B-Sides over one of the slower ballads. We both agreed that Open Road had a place on this album, but, we also agreed… that taken as a double album…. the paths were vibrant, clear, and equally represented.
Either way, the arrival of Concrete Jungle establishes Jane ‘n the Jungle as one of the premier acts in the Valley with a solid library of music and the talent to perform a headlining show. Very impressive.