Album Review: Puma Blue – Holy Waters (Blue Flowers)

by | May 24, 2024 | Album Reviews, Blog

Strolling through the twilight of an abandoned mega city, where the air vibrates with the hushed, anticipatory white noise of liminal space, you may find yourself contemplating the ebb and flow of life and death. In this moment, Holy Waters emerges as a singular soundtrack. Jacob Allen, the man behind Puma Blue, weaves an album that feels like a personal exchange of whispered confidences amid a silent abyss—an odyssey through the cycles of existence, death, love, and loss. These cycles will feature in Bucharest for the first time as Puma Blue plays Control Club on Friday, May 31.

“Death nestles like a sweet creature at the heart of Holy Waters,” proclaims the album’s description, and indeed, the weighty theme of mortality saturates each track. But this is not a somber contemplation on the end of life. Instead, it is a nuanced exploration of life’s cyclical nature, where melancholy and serenity dance an intimate, perhaps mystical, tango.

From the first notes of Falling Down, you are drawn into Allen’s world. The saxophone, accompanied by delicate and powerful vocals, feels like a distant, comforting whisper through the undulated topography of emotional turmoil. It’s as if drifting through a primordial forest, guided by the music’s otherworldly presence through a fog-laden dawn.

Pretty offers a sultry meditation on self-worth. Its eerie synthesizers create an unsettling and beautiful backdrop, capturing the feeling of being cherished yet vulnerable. This transitions seamlessly into post-breakup despair with O, The Blood! Here, building drums and a more assertive tempo inject vitality into Holy Waters’ contemplative core, reminiscent of Portishead’s Dummy era.

Hounds emerges as a standout, blending trip-hop influences with a frenetic saxophone solo. The track captures Allen’s live band’s kinetic energy—Harvey Grant on saxophone and keys, Cameron Dawson on bass, Ellis Dupuy on drums, and Luke Bower on guitar. Reflecting on loneliness yet finding beauty in small details like a sweltering cup of coffee in the waning hours of a brutal autumn day, Hounds resonates with a buoyant, almost defiant musicality.

Epitaph, a mournful ode to Allen’s late grandfather, shifts the emotional register with layered vocals and fragmented anecdotes. This somber reflection transitions into Gates (Wait For Me), where a funereal Hammond organ underscores meditative instrumentation. Additional somber piano and wailing guitar envelop listeners with a profound sense of loss and yearning.

Too Much, Too Much is a masterclass in Allen’s falsetto and compositional prowess. Over six minutes, the track meanders through various stages of emotional depth and musical complexity, making it one of the album’s most compelling pieces.

As the Holy Waters progresses, its sound evolves into a more beat-heavy style yet maintains the introspective ambience established earlier. The titular track blends smooth jazz elements with soaring vocals before the penultimate track Mirage, delves into the grief of losing a school friend through delicate electronic arrangements and heart-wrenching lyrics. Light Is Gone, with its haunting piano melodies and delicate vocal lines, then provides a fittingly poignant conclusion through a closing refrain, “don’t let the dark take you whole.” 

Recorded with Allens’ live band over two visits to Eastbourne’s Echo Zoo Studios, Holy Waters benefits from a richer sound than his previous work,In Praise of Shadows (2021). The album’s more analogue and experimental production lends a warmth and depth that complements the emotional intensity of the lyrics. Influences from Jeff Buckley to Björk and the improvisational spirit of Can and Hendrix permeate, making it an immersive experience whether listened to in late-night smoke rooms, headphones on, or blasted on the open road to nowhere.

Puma Blue’s Holy Waters is an intimate seance that lingers long after the final chords fade. It’s a balm for the restless heart, a soundtrack for the soul’s twilight hours for those seeking a heady sonic existentialism.

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