Thursday, February 25, 2021

Puma Blue Navigates Self-Acceptance in his Debut Album: In Praise of Shadows

Jacob Allen, better known under the alias Puma Blue, emerges from his struggle with insomnia in his debut album In Praise of Shadows. Sincere, vulnerable lyrics sewn with melancholic synths, lo-fi hip-hop beats among fleets of jazz and blues, abstractly traverse a young man’s path to self-acceptance. Unlike the wearing agony sensed in earlier EP’s Swum Baby and Blood Loss, Puma Blue empowers darkness in this solemnly hopeful album.

Profoundly influenced – in-title and in-sound – by Jun’ichirĊ Tanizaki’s essay on Japanese aesthetics, Puma Blue details that the 1933 text provided clarity when recording In Praise of Shadows. As a result, the record transcends genres and intersects auras of sound to emphasise quiet moments as notable as noisy ones. His sonic juxtapositions perform in cycles, like the rotation of day into nocturnal hours, forming ephemerality that requires slow and intimate digestion.


The album opens and seals with contrasts between regret and optimism. ‘Sweet Dreams’ begins with hazily ambient vocals, delicately eluding Puma Blue's remorse. In turn, the artist illuminates his journey to recovery by crediting his partner, Olivia, for helping him come to terms with his insomnia. Similarly, the snapshot aesthetic of the album-artwork by Olivia depicts Blue lying on a bed, peeking from behind a dream-like curtain. The artwork, combined with the opening track, encapsulates the candid project and dignifies its honest tone. The album gently closes with ‘Super Soft’, expressing gratitude with the lyrics ‘There’s no way I'm better off. Such words and closeness of breath, together with delicate acoustic strings, cradle the listener elsewhere from the album.


Nevertheless, In Praise of Shadows not only focuses on the solace of Blue’s relationship with Olivia. Equal to romance, the record explores familial love through recollecting intense moments of fear and helplessness surrounding his sister's suicide attempt in ‘Velvet Leaves’. The poignant lyrics of the chorus teeter along the fine veil between life and death, evoking a deeply emotional sense of loss. In contrast, he underlines his anxieties with glimmers of hope for his sister’s bravery and the strength of his family. In this tender track, Puma Blue realises there was nothing he could do to save his sister. Instead, he admires and graces her for achieving the seemingly impossible task of self-rescue. 


‘Oil Slick', on the other hand, disrupts the otherwise down-tempo momentum of the album. This song delves into another corner of Blue's depression, comparing his battle to an ‘oil slick on his mind’. Empowered by the chaotic, escalating, jazz-inspired drums, the track represents his desperation to avoid a downward spiral and his lust to feel. Juxtaposed by creaky strings, along with seductive melodies and gentle whispers, such intimacies enrich in the outro of the track, as Puma Blue revisits slow pace as he creeps into ‘Silk Print’.


On the whole, In Praise of Shadows is sincerely emotional and lucid. Tangibly rooted in themes of living with depression, Puma Blue's iconic, genre-defying sound beautifully poises a likeness to dark, cloudy skies balanced with hopeful sunrise: the perfect LP for all-hours. Rest assured, this debut album from Puma Blue offers a moment for eclectic grooving and solitary catharsis, with the comforting notion that - even amid the darkest of times - lightness will radiate.

Emma McGarry

insta: @emmamcgarryvisualart


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