Over the course of two EPs, two singles and a stripped-back live album, Puma Blue has established himself as one of the UK's most vital new talents, quietly amassing over 50 million streams in the process and selling out shows from London to LA and Paris to Tokyo. Now he's set to build upon his growing underground acclaim by releasing his long awaited debut album In Praise of Shadows on January 29th via Blue Flowers.
In Praise of Shadows is a delirious dreamland of soulful vocals, D'Angelo-ish guitars and muted electronic beats. Its fourteen tracks are a contemplation on "the balance of light and dark, the painful things you have to heal from or accept, that bring you through to a better place," says the 25-year-old Puma Blue, real name Jacob Allen. "It's about finding light in darkness - and realising that it's what got me here today."
Puma Blue's nocturnal, soul-searching sound was born from a decade in which the 25-year-old was plagued with insomnia, "for literally a decade, I just couldn't sleep," says the cult-acclaimed London songwriter/producer. That certainly helps to explain the hazy, late-night "voicemail ballads" of the early EP releases that propelled him to prominence, 2017's Swum Baby and 2018's Blood Loss earning him a reputation as affecting chronicler of unrequited love and inner turmoil.
It's an intimacy still present across In Praise of Shadows but there's also a new maturity and lucidity to the way in which Allen deals with his demons and celebrates beauty across his debut album, influenced no doubt by his journey over the last two years in which a blossoming romance has finally helped him to sleep whilst a burgeoning career forced the previously bedroom-bound songwriter out into the open, driving him to find new perspectives on loss, love and everything in-between.
The result is an album astonishing in its openness, from bittersweet reflections on past relationships - "I never learnt to cherish her" Jacob laments on "Cherish (furs)" - to pure love-laden soliloquies such as "Already Falling" or "Sheets," one of the album's most personal moments, which borrows a sample from the score of Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and repurposes it as a lilting love-song that Allen describes as "like a really personal note that you'd leave in the house to be found when you've got to head out early."
Nowhere is that openness more apparent though than on lead single "Velvet Leaves," released today. Propelled by a crisp hip-hop beat and culminating in reverb-drenched wails reminiscent of one of Allen's biggest influences, Jeff Buckley, the track explores an incident that still leaves him near panic attacks today. He wrote the beat and the lyric in the same session as he channeled that experience into his music.
"In the summer of 2015, my sister attempted suicide. It was a lot to process personally and for us as a family. I always wanted to deal with it in song but I never had the language, lyrically or musically, to grapple with such a complex issue. Then last year, I realised I finally had a way of dealing with that," says Allen. "I'd like to think it ended up being a hopeful song, about the beauty of the way she got through it, and we all got through it. But there are definitely elements of the song which are just about how dark that veil is."
The accompanying video for "Velvet Leaves" draws a parallel between the subject of the song and the greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Orpheus journeys "through the veil" to rescue Eurydice from the underworld. In a film rich with beautifully crisp cinematography, director Harvey Pearson (Sam Smith, SG Lewis) re-imagines the ancient story with a contemporary twist, casting Jacob as a downcast Orpheus-like character reflecting on a failed attempt to bring his Eurydice (here re-imagined as a sister, played by Mia Gill) back from beyond. It's a chilling reflection on near loss fitting with the directness with which Puma Blue confronts emotion in his music.
In Praise of Shadows is now available to pre-order https://ffm.to/pb-presave, with "Velvet Leaves" provided as an instant download.
In Praise of Shadows Tracklist
Olive / Letter To ATL
Is It Because
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