Puma Blue – ‘In Praise Of Shadows’ review: a downtempo sonic dreamland

The south Londoner’s debut confronts the emotions that have been keeping him in the dark

For nigh for a decade, Puma Blue – aka Jacob Allen – was trying to live a life plagued by insomnia. He says that the affliction resulted in barely a couple hours of sleep at night, and in a recent interview, adds that it was “compounding a depression”, his woozy music reflecting that period of restlessness. He credits a new partner for lifting the fog and bringing him out of the state; the songs on this debut album reflect that breakthrough.

His songwriting has always been an evocative one, in spite of the struggles. Since the release of his debut single ‘Want Me’ in 2017, and EPs ‘Swum Baby’ and ‘Blood Loss’, the monstrous streaming numbers and sell-out shows came naturally. A genre-defying sound – shades of King Krule, Mac Miller and James Blake – helped create a hazy dreamland for listeners to get lost in.

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‘In Praise Of Shadows’ traces the 25-year-old’s journey towards self-acceptance with an openness that was previously absent. Adding that he felt he must confront “the balance of light and dark, the painful things you have to heal from or accept”, it’s clear that the darkness that once dominated no longer seems to control him. Instead, much like the album’s title suggests, he makes himself vulnerable to the pain in order to accept and move beyond it.

The maturity is a welcome one, distancing him from the tortured, self-described ‘voicemail ballads’ of his early work. While there are moments on tracks like ‘Opiate’ and ‘Velvet Leaves’ where darkness and delirium win-out, by and large ‘In Praise Of Shadows’ is a celebration of life in its rawest form.

He shifts between minimalist production and complex layers of sound: twinkling guitar and woozy synths compliment the hip-hop beats and soulful melodies. Most notably on ‘Velvet Leaves’, where jazz-inflected drums and hip-hop beats mesh subtly, allowing his tender vocals – on which he ruminates on a sibling’s suicide attempt – to cut through the haze: “gotta stay strong for the little one / who found you in your room”.

Allen continues the trend of bedroom musicians not just utilising those spaces as a means, but for creativity too: “my guard is down when I write and record at home. I don’t shelter from my feelings”, he says. His vulnerability permeates every corner of the record – the closeness of his breath (‘Super Soft’) or fuzzy falsetto vocals on (‘Sweet Dreams’) – as Allen’s lo-fi production does nothing to dispel the notion that we’re eavesdropping on his innermost thoughts. At a time where many encumber sleepless nights and intense self-reflection, Puma Blue’s debut may well provide a brief moment of relief for those lost in the darkness.

Details

  • Release date: February 5
  • Record label: Blue Flowers
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