‘It’s much more focussed on making straight ahead pop songs,’ Hugo Manuel of Oxford-based four piece Jonquil told me at this year’s Field Day festival as we discussed the band’s upcoming, and as yet untitled, album. Not that this was a surprise to hear. Ever since their earliest incarnation rooted in the folk revival of the mid-naughties, Jonquil have been tracing a steady arc away from the abstract meanderings of their first releases towards the more streamlined sounds of Vampire Weekend’s sunny Afro-pop. This musical evolution culminated in 2010’s mini-album, One Hundred Suns, which, to these ears, stood out as one of the most effortlessly contagious records of that year.
Soaring gloriously between dizzying highs and lows accompanied only by a lone keyboard, Hugo’s vocal melody that opens Mexico, the first single to be released from Jonquil’s upcoming album, certainly would not feel out of place on One Hundred Suns. A vocalist of significant talent, Hugo’s delivery is reminiscent of Panda Bear’s in its purity but muscular in a way that distinguishes him from that artist’s swathes of imitators and as Mexico gains momentum his voice is enveloped in a sparkling mix of jangling guitars, horns and keyboards. This is the same restrained sonic palette used to such effect by the band on One Hundred Suns but on Mexico the African tinge of that album has given way to a more Western melodic and rhythmic sensibility. Whilst not a bad move per se, there is a nagging feeling that Mexico lacks some of the mystery, the intangibility, that made tracks like It Never Rains and Get Up so exhilarating. That being said, though, the wordless backing vocals that chatter on the periphery of the track, calling to mind Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective or Sigur Rós’s Gobbledigook, make for a welcome addition to Jonquil’s sound and Mexico’s seemingly endless stream of gorgeous hooks is ultimately undeniable.
Of all the brilliant music being made in Oxford today, be it the fidgety indie of Spring Offensive or the warped neo-soul of Pet Moon, Jonquil’s rush of unpretentious warmth and melody remains perhaps the most affecting. From its opening keyboard stabs to the swirling instrumental that closes out the song, Mexico sees Jonquil continuing on their quest for pop purity and, whilst there may have been casualties along the way, I dare you not to have a smile on your face by the end of its four minutes.