Album Walkthrough: The Jungle Giants talk their indulgent new album, Love Signs
The Brisbane group's fourth album continues their descent into electrifying, synth-driven dance-pop - and it's a whole lot of fun.
Since their debut a decade ago, The Jungle Giants have had an interesting sonic journey. Initially, they made an entrance through jangly and light-hearted indie-pop, as defined by their self-titled debut EP and their breakthrough of a first album, Learn To Exist. Since then, however, the Brisbane-based four-piece - led by producer/songwriter extraordinaire Sam Hales - have begun a twisting and exhilarating descent into the depths of pop music, showing the genre's many sides - as well as the band's own multifacetedness - as they flicker through generations and sub-genres of music, each stamped with that distinct Jungle Giants charm.
On their second album (2015's Speakerzoid), The Jungle Giants' embrace of pop music was shown through its haziest, psychedelic-sounding corners, as they explored the depths of indie-rock's history and brought its sounds forward to the then-current day. Then, in 2017, their Quiet Ferocity record teased what The Jungle Giants could sound like if they were invigorated by an arsenal of synthesisers, leaning into the infectiousness of dance-pop without veering too far away from the indie backings that made the band such a festival-frequenting stand-out.
Each record has seemingly been indebted to adventurousness and riskiness, as Hales and the greater band - guitarist Cesira Aitken, bassist Andrew Dooris and drummer Keelan Bijker - fight to expand The Jungle Giants' sonic vision rather than refine it down. The last year, however, has brought more experimentation to the band than ever, as lockdown forced their frontman to go into their new project alone, with the other members stuck in their respective lockdowns. "I got the perfect excuse to do everything exactly according to me," Hales says. "I could just sit in the studio and play everything myself."
The end result shows in the form of their fourth album Love Signs, which doesn't just mark the commencement of a new Jungle Giants era in sound, but a new era in The Jungle Giants' entire being; the makeshift of the band changing as Hales' expert songwriting and production - something which has long defined the band through its history - guides The Jungle Giants through their exciting new chapter, in which Love Signs sets the scene for.
If Quiet Ferocity saw The Jungle Giants dip their toes into the indulgence of pop music, then Love Signs is an Olympic dive into a swimming pool of slick hooks and synth-driven production, indebted to everything from 90s R&B to palm tree-fringed club music as The Jungle Giants' descent into pop music continues. In that, Love Signs contains some of the band's most infectious moments to date, from the already-loved Sending Me Ur Loving and Heavy Hearted - two of The Jungle Giants' most successful singles to date - to songs like Treat You Right, which beckon with the call-and-response fun synonymous with Timbaland.
There's a joyfulness surrounding much of the record both in sound and theme, and while Hales charades intimacy with joy at parts - take the turbulent Here I Come or Heartless, for example - much of Love Signs feels like a cool breeze of relief, one that tastes particularly sweet considering the rollercoastering world at the time of the album's chip-away creation. Songs like the album-opening title-track are rich with a floating romanticism because of that, while other songs - Charge My Phone, for example - feel almost cheekily care-free, witnessing the band soak in the indulgence long associated with pop music's catchiest moments.
Love Signs is full of that catchy potency, and while slithers of their past selves sneak their way into the album's songwriting and sound, much of Love Signs points towards newfound energy within The Jungle Giants, who this time around, feel as lively as ever. Love Signs is full of that, and while the pandemic encourages many songwriters to look inwards and reflect (with more subtle music as a byproduct), it's nice to have a genuinely fun album emerge from the madness of it all.
Take a dive into Love Signs below, and underneath, read Sam Hales' track by track walkthrough of the album, dissecting its creation and themes one song at a time:
The lyrics of the song seemed to say a lot, instantly. It’s about these little messages we send each other, love signs. I wrote it with my girlfriend Grace after I had sung something on the demo and she thought I was singing “love signs”. It connected all the dots for other random songs I was working on and that’s when they started coming together as a record. The music I write has been getting dancier and dancier. When we did our first EP I was listening to Bon Iver, so as my music taste has changed it is reflected in the music we make.
Treat You Right
Sometimes I imagine myself as a character when I am singing. This day I was wearing a really daggy outfit, a Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans, sandals and socks. It made me feel good. I was thinking of a guy singing to a girl who shouldn’t have been interested in him but it was his daggy charm that was cool. The way I usually start a tune is with a beat then a bass line, so from the beginning I have that percussive element. Then I start adding colour and chords and the final thing is melody and lyrics.
When I get the bed of track sounding good I start singing, do do do and la la la. Often some of these sounds like words strung together and that can give me a theme. I had never written a duet before but when I got that chorus it made sense to have the girl return the message so I called Grace and asked her to sing.
In Her Eyes
I was listening to a lot of Timbaland and he has this cool percussive sound. Once I had that type of production going I wanted to sing something cool and sexy. I showed it to a friend who said, “This is like Ashanti, you should have five-part harmony”. So I laid all the harmonies on myself. It is comforting to be in control of the session myself the way I am on this record. I was pretty young when we started going to studios and I would get frustrated because I couldn’t explain how I wanted it to sound. It was a natural progression so now I am writing and producing at the same time, making this little world in my computer.
Sending Me Ur Loving
I wanted to make a big pop melody chorus. I had been working on it for a while but when that chorus popped into my head I sang it into my phone 50 times so I wouldn’t lose it. When I was trying to finish the vocals I wasn’t happy with it. I asked Grace to come over and she said, “Let’s get some champagne.” Then she said, “Try something weird, take off some clothes.” I started singing way better in my underpants and shoes. At one point she gave me a spank before I started singing and that almost made me laugh. That broke the track open. It was only a couple of more spanks and it was done.
An upbeat song with sad lyrics. Happy/sad is a good balance. We like that. That’s always been a favourite for the band and me too. This one started when we went to Bali for a break with some friends. I was super-relaxed and had this week where I wrote heaps and heaps of songs, all on my phone. I was in the pool when I came up with his eight bar kind of loop. Ran into the house and recorded it. Went back to the pool. The whole trip was like that.
Charge My Phone
At the beginning, you hear how the song started. That’s Grace and I sitting in a café in Bali, singing the bass line and the riff over the top. You can hear things clinking, a kid talking. It makes an awesome segue into the song. Sometimes I get really inside my head and I need to bounce things off someone. Grace really understands that. If I am stressing out about music she knows how to calm me down and balance me out.
After our last album, I went to Europe and didn’t write any songs for four months. A reset mode. This was the first track I wrote when I got back and I thought, this is the new sound I’m looking for. I knew I was after a certain bass sound, a tonky kind of sound. Then I saw a video of someone playing an instrument called a tubulum made from PVC pipes. That was exactly the sound. I rang my manager and said, “This is going to sound weird but I need a tubulum. ASAP.” I really felt like it would get things going and it did. It’s really fun to play because it is essentially a drum and bass machine, you hit the drums to produce these short fat sounds. That’s the sound in Heavy Hearted. Without that sound I probably wouldn’t have written it.
Here I Come
I wrote this early on, at about the same time as Heavy Hearted. I liked the song but I wasn’t sure if it would be on the record. As the other songs were written this one started to reveal itself and I loved it more and more. Usually I never write songs like this, brutally honest and extremely lovey. “Well anyway I’ve been up the whole damn night.” Pretty much it’s about if my girlfriend really needed help, I would always be there. If you need me, here I come. It has a dizzy element to it which made so much sense as I was writing it.
Something Got Between Us
That was the final track recorded and I knew the album needed one more of that kind of song to emphasise the dance element. I wanted it to be a groover, the melody tucked away in the track but it just thumps. On the final day of pre-production I went over to see Andrew Dooris, our bass player, and show him the songs. I was going crazy because I had been working on them for months. I showed him the songs and he said, “That’s nine, where’s the last one?” We counted them. Oh my God. I had to extend my deadline and go back home to finish this one. That was a funny way to end. I had gone so deep into the record I forgot how many songs I had.
Grace and I did the lyrics together for this one and we had two different ideas of what the Monstertruck is. For me it’s my love for you, you are the monstertruck for me. There was another song with the same title and I felt they were both good ideas but they weren’t really making it for the record. Then I thought, what if I combine them? That completely changed things, it became its own song. There are a bunch of those surprises on the record where I tried little experiments and I would go, “Yay!”