xx-esque dream pop with the atmospheric post-dubstep of SBTRKT and indie rock sensibilities
Adam England
12:13 2nd February 2021

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For Puma Blue fans, this album has been a long time coming. The 25-year-old (Jacob Allen to his mates) has been making a name for himself with dreamy soundscapes and mellow, blissed-out beats, and it’s almost strange that it’s taken him until now to drop a debut album. Fortunately, In Praise Of Shadows is definitely worth the wait.

Combining xx-esque dream pop with the atmospheric post-dubstep of SBTRKT and indie rock sensibilities, it’s the sort of record that fits the bill if you’re working from home or just want to sit back and relax after a long day on your feet. 

Allen’s influences are wide-ranging, from the alternative rock of Jeff Buckley and PJ Harvey to the more electronic sounds of Burial and DJ Shadow, and this isn’t an album that feels bound by genre or style, particularly. He’s doing his own thing, and it works. 

The record might have been prompted by a lengthy battle with insomnia, but ‘Oil Slick’, a track about the ‘black hole’ of depression, has an altogether more nervous energy in comparison to the low-key serenity elsewhere, and feels particularly poignant as we find ourselves stuck in another lockdown.

“Shot my veins up with this liquid liquor darkside/Just like oil slick on my mind”, sings Allen on the trip-hop inspired epic, “But you made me feel on the inside/Yes you made me feel alright.”

“This track was basically an attempt at capturing the influence of artists like Burial, DJ Shadow, Portishead and Tricky, but with a live band sound,” says Allen of ‘Oil Slick’. “Parts of that process were really influenced by Rage Against The Machine’s way of creating music, but I wanted to make the production really dense like a Burial album, rather than keep it to the minimal bones of the live band like Rage do so well.”

If ‘Oil Slick’ is nervous energy, the majority of the album represents something more at peace, and closer to what we might expect from Allen. The R&B-style vocals on ‘Cherish (Furs)’ flow on to ‘Velvet Leaves’, one of the highlights of the album. Five minutes long, it starts off quite hushed before more expansive, syncopated percussion building up in the sort of crescendo that makes your hairs stand on end. Meanwhile, ‘Sheets’ has a harmony that could be straight from the xx’s playbook, with soft vocals over a Jon Brion sample.

There’s a subtle jazz influence throughout the album too, and it’s perhaps most present on ‘Already Falling’. “And I’m never gonna hear your tones bleed through/ and I’m already falling in love, with the shape of you,” Allen’s smooth vocals come out, before smooth saxophone takes over. The track had its origins in a 2015 demo but it took five years for the finished product to be reached. Likewise, 'Bath House' finishes with a calming sax solo, but flows right into the final track, “Super Soft”, which is full of hazy dream-pop.

At 14 tracks long, In Praise of Shadows feels very much like a clear statement of intent from Allen, and we’re left salivating at the thought of what’s going to come next.

In Praise of Shadows arrives 5 February via Blue Flowers. 

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