In Praise of Shadows
Following a string of early singles—as well as a 2019 live album he didn’t know was being recorded at the time—Jacob Allen’s debut LP as Puma Blue takes its title from Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, a 1933 essay on Japanese aesthetics that brought him clarity as he recorded. “I’ve always been really fascinated by his emphasis on the importance of darkness,” Allen tells Apple Music of Tanizaki. “The more I read, the more I started to think that maybe it could be taken as a metaphor: finding an importance for darkness within your life, rather than just aesthetically. That’s what ended up tying the songs together for me, realizing that not all of them have come from a place of joy, and even the ones that haven’t feel like they're coming from this place of acceptance.” And though Allen’s dreamy, lamplit R&B draws clear influence from jazz and trip-hop, Tanizaki looms large over the music as well. “That book had a profound influence on me sonically,” Allen says. “Trying to focus more on the negative space in music, the quiet moments. Seeing those as more or just as important as the moments of noise. That attention to being delicate has really driven my music for the last three years, but especially now.” Here, Allen breaks down six of the album’s key tracks.
Velvet Leaves “My sister was struggling, and one day we really nearly lost her. I think for a while I just unconsciously bottled that and didn't really know how to process it. Then about two years ago, I started attempting to write about it for the first time. It took a while to really find the words, but once I did, the music just came straight away. It’s about the day, the event and how that transpired, the feelings of what goes through our head. Like, ‘Oh, my god, what was the last thing I said to that person? Is that going to be the last thing that I say to them?’ But I wanted it to be semi-hopeful, about her bravery and the beauty of the fact that she got through it and the strength of my family. The chorus is about that veil between life and death, how thin it is. In that moment, that day, it was really just like everything was hanging by a thread. The idea of velvet leaves came from this dream I had afterward, where she was falling down and down and I was hurtling down too, just trying to catch her. The point is that it's not really up to me, there was nothing I could do. Thankfully, she saved herself.”
Snowflower “That was a beat I had on my laptop for ages. I was originally trying to give it to another singer, I think, but they weren't into it or maybe they just forgot about it. It’s about acknowledging being hurt in a past relationship, but also the regret of being the cause of hurt as well. So it’s sort of a poem or a prayer to the end of a relationship and just sort of the acceptance of realizing it's over. Trying to hold the other person in the best regards and move forward, sort of seeing them as you saw them when you were with them still, and maybe mourning the loss of that pure thing you shared.”
Sheets “I think it's the first song I've written that I can truly say is a love song. Lots of the songs I've written about love in the past have been unrequited or about certain aspects of love that aren't joyful. This is the first song I feel like I've written purely from a gorgeous place of safety and joy and happiness. I was really inspired by a recovery from insomnia that I've struggled with since I was about ten years old. For the last two years, since I've been with my partner, I've been sleeping really, really well. So I wrote this poem about it, a kind of dreamy ode to both her and the recovery from this lack of sleep. I thought what I wanted to convey was no longer being pressured to sort of assume the typical masculine role in the relationship, but instead writing from my lover's lap. Being in her arms, and being safe within her energy, rather than the other way around.”
Oil Slick “It's really morphed a lot over time, because it's more of a band song. Those guys have a huge influence on the music. Some songs start off as ideas of mine, and then I'll just record them that way, as I write it. But other songs, I write them at home and then I bring them to the band and they end up really sort of influencing the way they turn out because of these improvised moments that exist between us. Most of my songs sit in a bit of a downtempo place, and this is one that was threatening to bounce around. It's about dealing with depression and not wanting to fall down into a black hole. But then the outro comes to this different place, thanking someone for opening my heart up again and bringing me not necessarily joy, but into just feeling. The hardest thing if you're depressed is just being cold to the world and wishing you could feel anything.”
Silk Print “It's a very old song. I wrote it in 2014 about someone I had feelings for. I played this song just once, at an open mic night in South London. I never had a recording of it; I just completely forgot it. It was almost like I just needed that catharsis in the moment. But sometime in 2019, I found the lyrics again in an old notebook. I started playing it at a couple of shows where I didn't have the band, just to fill time. It was getting a really good reaction, and I was feeling it again, which is weird because even though I'd been in a happy relationship for a while, I think that in singing that song again, I could relate to that young pain. It’s not very complex—it’s just about dying to hear that person admit that they love you back and asking them to say it whilst they still do.”
Super Soft “Something I wrote with one of my best friends, Luke, who makes music under the name Lucy Lu. We'd been drinking and talking about some heavy life stuff. I almost kind of ended up writing this with him for him, to deal with what he was going through—not to necessarily provide a solution, but just to help him reflect. It almost summed up everything the album's about: that balance of light and dark; accepting those painful things you go through; just knowing that maybe one day, there'll be a kernel of wisdom that takes you to a better place.”