Plants and Animals Deliver a Dialed-In Existential Reckoning in ‘The Jungle’

Last week Plants and Animals dropped their fifth album, The Jungle, which sees the Montreal trio delivering their most dialed-in—and far out—collection to date in just eight tracks.

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The indie rock outfit—composed of Warren Spicer, Nicolas Basque, and Matthew Woodley—started crafting the album’s title track and opening number while prepping their last record (2016’s Waltzed in from the Rumbling), but continued to tinker with it for a few years. Eventually, the band finished the song while on a mushroom trip.

“It was a song that had been kicking around since the previous album, so it got shelved the last time we made a record, which was in 2016,” recalls Warren Spicer, speaking from his home in Montreal. “We had thought it was a good song but we couldn’t figure it out, so we tried it again on this record and we just did it much differently than we did it the first time.”

“We were in the studio and Nic, the other guitar player—it was kind of his song that he put together,” Spicer continues. “He had just had a new baby and his girlfriend was at the studio with the baby, and we had all our stuff set up and I think Nic had the baby in his hands when we did the take and he was playing some synthesizers and pedals. His girlfriend was singing in the other room and her voice was going through all of his stuff, [Matthew] was drumming, I was playing bass. It was one of those things where it was a rehearsal, and then all of the things that everyone was doing very unconsciously were all things that we ended up really liking, so we just kept all of them.”

At the time, Spicer was still on the fence about the track. “I wasn’t convinced,” he recalls. “And then we were working on it again—we had rented a cottage to get away from everything for a couple of days and try to finish the songs… At the cottage we did some mushrooms and I listened to it and my whole perception of the song changed. It was a really enjoyable experience to listen to it.”

I ask Spicer what switched, what flipped. “I don’t know,” he replies, “it just all made sense. Because the song had been around for a long time and the creation of it was kind of messy, maybe, I just didn’t understand what that song was. It didn’t really have a typical structure, and we didn’t really try to structure it, we just kind of let it happen. So I guess I just hadn’t opened my mind up to it properly, and I think maybe the mushrooms just helped me see what it was, or what it really was.”

Spicer, Basque, and Woodley were also drawn to the term “the jungle.” “We all liked the symbolism of a beautiful yet scary environment,” says Spicer, “where you’re kind of out of your element but you’re surrounded by things that are beautiful.”

Sure enough, The Jungle is exactly that type of environment, combining raucous psych-rock with lulling dream pop. Following the title track, “Love That Boy” is stirring and despondent; “House On Fire” is a soaring, electronic thumper; “Sacrifice” is driving and nervous; “Get My Mind” is jarring and loose, featuring a self-destructive denouement; “Le Queens” is a spaced out synth number; “In Your Eyes” is mesmerizing and dissociative; and album closer “Bold” is a haunting psych-folk tune punctuated by a pair of existential outbursts. These songs recycle simple elements—guitar and bass, drums and synth—in revelatory ways.

“We’ve never set out to make a necessarily cohesive album in terms of what each song is when it gets related to one another,” says Spicer. “I think we go into a song and just try to take that song to where it’s supposed to go. Once people start talking about [having] enough songs for a record, then you start to think about what the album is. We ended up getting rid of a bunch of songs that didn’t really fit, so I guess, ‘House on Fire’ and ‘In Your Eyes’ are very different, but there’s something that holds them together for me. There’s an openness, musically, even though ‘House on Fire’ is a little bit more straight, there’s still something not that tight about the whole thing. There are sounds that are coming in and out, and it’s not super on the grid. There’s a looseness that keeps it together.”

The band largely wrote and recorded the album in 2018 and 2019, first in Montreal then at the aforementioned cottage. “It was in the winter and we just airbnb’d a cabin on a frozen lake with a fireplace and brought up some equipment,” Spicer recalls. “There’s a studio in Montreal we recorded at called Mixart and that’s where we would go and record the tracks. But then there’d be a laundry list of things we wanted to do or try. It was hard to get it done so we needed to sign off from our lives for a few days and be away and do that.”

Unsurprisingly, the band hasn’t had many opportunities to perform the album live. They did, however, perform a COVID-safe set at POP Montreal last month. “We actually did an indoor show with very limited attendance and spread out seating and all of that,” says Spicer. “That was a big moment for us, to actually play. Like three days after we played, [Montreal] essentially shut down all live performances, so we really just squeezed in before the deadline on that one.”

The best part about performing for an in-person audience during a pandemic? “Everybody who’s there really wants to be there,” says Spicer, “so it was good vibes all the way.” 

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