Someday, maybe, Jenn Malzone's pen will dry up, having written dozens of sharp, biting songs about love's pitiful game of Ping-Pong. If and when that time comes, it won't be soon. About eighteen months after releasing the roundly admired Girl Talk, Malzone and her mates in Middle Class Fashion return with a fourteen-track LP and a new member in tow. Katie Lindhorst joins the band on synthesizer and backing vocals; she transmits a lot of energy onstage, but her contributions here add a little synthy ambience to the piano-driven tracks. It's neither an obtrusive nor lightweight addition — her gossamer keys on "Come Around Anytime" give body and texture to a band that has proudly made do with a straight-ahead piano/bass/drums trio. The band's debut was pointed and assured, but Jungle doubles down on the band's strengths and shows meaningful tweaks in both arrangement and Malzone's lyrical approach. She's great at slinging arrows from on high, but here she wears the romantic bull's-eye proudly.
Thanks in part to engineer Jason McEntire and his Sawhorse Studios, the production is cleaner and brighter, with little sonic filigrees throughout that were absent on the largely home-recorded debut. A track like "Junk" is, on the surface, the type of song that has come to typify MCF's style — heavy piano chords, on-point harmonies, a sticky chorus — but the arrangement here elevates the track by letting the harmonies shine like a Beach Boys breakdown. Plenty of tracks on Jungle will sound familiar to fans of Girl Talk, but "Golden Rose" stands out as the biggest shift in sound on the new album. Brian McClelland's bass playing, normally a paragon of McCartney-indebted buoyancy, gets positively slappy. That little bit of funk is matched by Lindhorst's slow-oscillating synth, which supplants the piano as the lead instrument. Maybe that's why Malzone sounds like she's pushing the urgency of the lyrics, imbuing the track with earnestness or anger or both. It's a magnetic performance and a sweet slice of dance-pop that's already received more than a few spins on community radio in town. Chances are, you won't have to work too hard to hear these songs on the air or on stages in the coming months.