Wednesday, May 31, 2006

on the jungle floor: a review

while those who ushered in the so-called neo-soul movement during the mid- and late 1990s continue to be missing in action (maxwell, d'angelo), or are sporadic and/or mercurial in their public appearances and creative output (d'angelo [again], erykah badu, lauryn hill), people with an affinity for r&b/soul/black music etc. are resigned to sift through a crop of neatly packaged, young, black singer-songwriter/musicians who leave many uttering, "i know there must be something better than this." the carefully crafted and monitored images of the predictable and musically unadventurous john legend and alicia keys, the gritty "ghetto and blues" of fantasia and lyfe jennings, and the work of those riding on the coattails of their neo-soul foremothers and fathers (musiq, jill scott, et. al.) with their easily codifiable personas, and terribly inconsistent work--which often sound like first drafts of spoken word "poems" and black history month speeches and essays--hardly satisfy the appetite of soul music aficionados with a desire for something pithy and lasting.

there's a gem or two, of course. as the aforementioned continue to reap the benefits of the hype that fluffs their musical shortcomings, van hunt is steadily amassing an impressive body of work that should continue to garner the praises of critics and music lovers everywhere. though a definite exit from his debut (2004's van hunt), hunt's second album in as many years is highly impressive, and will--like its predecessor--more than likely be one of the best albums of the year most folk won't hear, despite the fact that hunt is very closely linked to american idol judge, randy jackson.

though his oeuvre only features two full-length albums and an appearance or two on a few movie soundtracks, hunt's no newcomer. he sports a respectable resume. hunt co-wrote "hopeless" with dionne farris (who was, arguably, before her time), and the record "mean sleep," which appeared on the debut album of a different world star-turned lenny kravitz protege, cree summer; along with nikka costa, hunt does a great cover of the latter on jungle. if one recalls anything from those two tracks, it's their refreshing lyrical content. with jungle, hunt continues to evolve as a songwriter, picking up where he left off on his debut. lyrically, the man is gifted. and his maturation is evident on this latest effort. with pithy reflections such as, "words are the changes that we take/was it better left unexplained?" on the melancholy "daredevil," the alliterative, "her winter coat and sexy tokes on camel smokes" on "being a girl," and his eloquent pledge to be faithful to an absent lover on the provocative and hypnotically sexy "priest or police," make hunt's peers look silly in their attempts at clever songwriting, their efforts coming off as asininely presumptuous in comparison.

though many of the influences may be the same (sly, jimi, prince, et. al.), hunt is no member of some third wave neo-soul cohort. if anything, on the jungle floor further solidifies his individuality, his distance from others. as a whole, this album exhibits hunt's confidence. he is, perhaps, less self-aware. with no sophomore jinx to conquer (hunt's debut barely cracked the top 40 upon its release), hunt takes leaps and adventures his more famous counterparts are too scared, or not talented enough to make. though not flawless, what results is a fierce compilation of songs that defy convention and genre; jungle entices and satisfies parts of our palate we forgot existed.

personal picks: "hot stage lights"; "being a girl"; "priest or police"

cop: van hunt (2004); on the jungle floor (2006)
website: van hunt

language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison


Blogger a. said...

Maybe I need to give this another listen. I much prefer his first album

31/5/06 21:46  
Blogger Hollambeeee said...

i agree with a. on this...i'm a fan..."Dust" is one of my favorite songs of all time...but i just wasn't feeling this second offering much...i'll try again

1/6/06 06:31  
Blogger jb said...

did you seem him on tavis a while back..good interview.

my take on van:

he need to take that ubiquitous handkerchief off his head and get a decent stylist.

he's an incredibly sincere performer but visibly uncomfortable on stage which makes watching him painful.

"mean sleep" (never heard the cree street faerie version) is lyrically awkward and melodically predictable but nevertheless a hearty attempt at traversing little explored emotional territory. that's what i like about him; the feeling in his music is relatively original and generally cliche free:

"You look at me from every angle, follow my every move from the bed to the door..."

"Hold my Hand" is my shit!

1/6/06 10:05  
Blogger summer m. said...

@a and holla: listen to it, let it settle. play it again. i'm telling you. jungle is lightweight dy-lan. i do, however, love his first album dearly.

@jb: hankerchief? agreed. missed him perform here b/c the hothouse occasionally fucking sux when it comes to copping thickets. mean sleep? agreed, tambien. re cliches: when he uses them, you understand why.

and HOLD MY HAND is the complete and utter shit. i never everevereverever get tired of it.

van hunt is a lesbian.


1/6/06 12:04  
Blogger Hollambeeee said...

lmao @ van hunt is a lesbian


1/6/06 13:51  
Blogger nubian said...

van hunt is a lesbian, indeed!

i have to say i have on the jungle floor on heavy roatation in my mp3 player (no i don't own an ipod--just a regular mp3 player)

2/6/06 00:16  
Blogger mwilli said...

saw him when he opened for heather headley and anthony hamilton last month. when he came out on stage nobody really knew who he was. then again, i live in texas where they play snap your fingers by lil jon every 5 minutes, but it was a great 15-minute set.

2/6/06 08:02  
Blogger nubian said...

oh, and does anyone else think that van hunt reminds them of prince?

6/6/06 16:30  
Blogger dustdaughter said...

This is a wonderful review. Thanks for giving the album several listens and a considered analysis. I've read reviews or comments from folks on other boards that quickly dismiss OTJF because they didn't find the songs as immediately catchy as the tracks on his debut disc. I don't understand this view, but everyone has their own opinions. While I adore his first cd, I've been wearing out OTJF since it came out and I love every. single. song. I don't think he uses cliches the way less-talented writers do; I think he turns them inside-out or on their head in ways that make me have to replay the song (yay!) to figure out just wtf he's talking about.

I could go on and on (and I think I already have). This is a fantastic cd, more people need OTJF in their lives.

Thanks Sincerely,

9/6/06 20:49  
Anonymous rocksteady said...

greetings homie,
i hadn't checked your blog in a minute...i'm on an information superhighway binge so i'm hitting up all my virtual friends.
i really liked reading your entry about visiting your family. thanks for sharing.

12/6/06 09:58  
Blogger Jdid said...

seen this in my journeys through the crates at many a used cd joint and thought about picking it up but didnt. maybe i will now that i read what you had to say

16/6/06 15:46  

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