Jake Bugg’s ‘Shangri La’ defies comparison

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Jake Bugg’s music has been compared to that of legends Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly. And while that might have been true of his eponymous debut album, his sophomore work, Shangri La, is more Bugg than Bob.

Adding to his folksy vibe, which he perfected with the release of Jake Bugg earlier this year, Shangri La alludes to rock, country and — one could argue — punk.

This myriad of sounds is surprisingly cohesive, a feature that may be attributed to Bugg’s link to legendary producer Rick Rubin. Rubin, who is known for his work with LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys and, recently, Kanye West, was impressed by how accomplished Bugg was at the ripe age of 19 and invited him to record at his studio (named Shangri-la) in Malibu.

Putting together a band that included Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Pete Thomas (made famous by Elvis Costello), Jason Lader (of Mars Volta fame) and Matt Sweeney, Rubin made sure Bugg was surrounded by musicians who were able to complement his natural musical style.

“Natural” is quite possibly the best way to describe Shangri La. The album opens with “There’s a Beast and We All Feed It,” a short (less than two minutes), feel-good track bursting with electricity. This high-voltage energy is continued in “Slumville Sunrise,” in which Bugg frustratingly articulates defeat and restlessness: “I clench my fists and feet / I’m trying to cry out loud / Make a sound, but something is keeping me down.”

Although songs such as “What Doesn’t Kill You” are reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys’ twitchy, spastic punk, other tracks remain true to Bugg’s own style, which has developed with confidence and maturity. “A Song About Love” surrenders to a more balladlike grace, while “Pine Trees” charmingly swells and soars.

Fans and critics alike have tried comparing Bugg to old-school legends, but Shangri La emphatically shows that while Jake Bugg may be an old soul, he certainly doesn’t need to try to be the next anybody.

Contact Addy Bhasin at [email protected].