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Puma Blue: In Praise Of Shadows

After listening to In Praise of Shadows, one might be curious to discover that Jacob Allen, the UK-based songwriter known as Puma Blue, suffered from insomnia for a decade. Allen’s lyrics frequently sound like they were born out of endless nights staring at a stucco ceiling with little more than feelings of regret and remorse to accompany him. On his earliest releases, Puma Blue hadn’t always leaned into this nocturnal vibe, with his first uploads more sunny than soaked in moonlight. However, considering that Allen is now channeling darkness into song, it is only natural that his latest is a relatively personal project.

Opening with a melancholic music box chime, the tone is established for the rest of the record; This is an album that is best heard buried under a quilt with hot tea in hand, surrounded by candles with the lights low. Where this serves beautifully as the soundtrack to a cozy night, it doubles as a project that tends towards the background of the evening’s events rather than the forefront.

Allen’s style of lethargic jazz comfortably settles into a groove that seems tailor-made for a lo-fi chill hip-hop playlist. This isn’t to say that Puma Blue’s output is boring or lazy, rather that its largely middling tone does little to mix up the flow or catch the listener’s ear. When Allen manages to break out of this mood and pique one’s interest, the results are terrific. On “Snowflower,” Puma Blue does his best impression of 2010 James Blake, vocoder-esque performance and all. Allen’s version of this digitized R&B is catchier than the Blake comparison would imply, though. Regretful lyrics about a failed relationship filtered through this song’s vocal style emulate the fog between wakefulness and asleep, when some of the truest emotions bubble to the surface, and this solidifies the track as a highlight.

“Velvet Leaves” reflects on a traumatizing experience Allen faced when his sister’s life was put in jeopardy. However ambiguous the lyrics may be in regards to details, they nonetheless capture some of the most vividly heartbreaking imagery on the album. The percussion and guitar are lively and prominent while still maintaining a laid back atmosphere, making sure to keep the mood consistent with the storytelling.

Most of the album has fittingly dreamy instrumentation and performances. Puma Blue’s mumbled refrains feed into the concept of Allen’s darkest thoughts chipping away at his mental health. In “Cherish (furs),” the repetition of I never learnt to cherish her drives the point across with simple writing, while closer “Supersoft” fades to the persistent whispers of If we could be still just for a minute. It’s a subtle ending that sounds like laying with a partner in the early morning as glimpses of dawn gradually replaces the dark.

Above all else, Puma Blue crafts a vibe. He is a skilled performer and composer, and his vocals meld with the mix seamlessly. Variety across the track list would have been welcome for the sake of critical listening, but for the time being In Praise of Shadows can be relegated to a chill playlist on which it will serve its purpose flawlessly.

Summary
Best heard buried under a quilt with hot tea in hand, surrounded by candles with the lights low.
60 %
Dark Chill

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