It’s been long mythologised that Aphex Twin made his seminal ’90s albums in a haze of drowsiness, embracing sleep deprivation to unlock an electronic lucidity only found in the clouded mind.
London-based songwriter and producer Puma Blue achieves something similar with his debut, In Praise of Shadows, an album that channels his decade-long experience with insomnia, using it to craft a record that revels in the hypnagogic fuzziness we typically drown out with a cup of coffee or a run, but that Puma Blue, aka Jacob Allen, has learnt to live beside.
Across the album’s 14 tracks there’s a wonderfully bleary-eyed focus that ties together jazz, ambient, acoustic singer-songwriter and blues in one beautiful stretched reverie. Lyrics, instruments and vibes are painted across the LP’s emulsion, sketching foggy, nocturnal sounds that feel like they’ll be lost if exposed to the light of day. Lo-fi drumbeats or acoustic chords anchor most songs like a looping, recurring dream.
At the record’s end, you warmly recall the ephemeral vision of a violin in ‘Velvet Leaves’, the soft howl of the saxophone in ‘Already Falling’ and the echoing spectral shouts throughout ‘Bath House’, where Allen, lost in nostalgic déjà vu, wonders if “I’ve been here before.”
These tracks are wondrous, brittle things, ready to fall apart when you stop believing in them, and perfectly straddle the line between feeling unfinished and feeling never-ending, combing the ambiguity of night with the confidence of day.