Music

Six Things That Inspired Puma Blue’s New Album

The cult songwriter-producer (and everyone's favourite softboi) drew on Japanese aesthetics and D'Angelo to create LP 'In Praise of Shadows'.

Quietly racking up over 50 million streams across a handful of EPs and a live album, Puma Blue (aka Jacob Blue) is one of London’s best-kept musical secrets. Now, with debut studio album In Praise of Shadows, he’s about to go beyond the underground. Sure to bring his soulful vocal and understated experimentation to a new, wider audience, the LP is not only his most complex work so far but shows just how much he’s grown since breakthrough single “Want Me” in 2017.

In Praise of Shadows sees him at his most emotionally vulnerable, drawing on his own personal history of insomnia as well as failed relationships, new loves and even the panic surrounding his sister’s suicide attempt in 2015, referenced in single “Velvet Leaves”. Speaking of the album, Jacob explains that it captures the duality integral to the human experience, as well as the troubles that give our good times greater meaning “[The album is about] the balance of light and dark, the painful things you have to heal from or accept, that bring you through to a better place,” Jacob says. 

To celebrate In Praise of Shadows’ release, we caught up with Jacob to talk through the records, films and books which inspired the album’s creation — from the essay on Japanese aesthetics from which it took its name, to the Michael Gondry film sampled on track “Sheets”.

Vespertine – Björk

“Cocoon” had been a really special song to me for a long time, and really got me through a particularly hard time a few years ago. But I had never actually listened to the album it was from until I started writing my album. I was so moved by the vulnerability she expresses and the gentle yet bold spirit the embodied across the record. It softened me and brought me closer to myself and encouraged me to write about love.

In Praise Of Shadows – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki 

I discovered this gorgeous book a few years ago and read it often, more for comfort than anything else. Even though it’s a book of aesthetic rumination and comparisons of cultures, I started to consider Tanizaki’s thoughts in more of a metaphorical sense and found an understanding in my own music of seeking light in the dark. Celebrating the hard times as part of what makes this precious present moment beautiful. So that was where the title came from because I wanted to praise both the darkness and light represented in these songs equally.

Untrue – Burial 

A friend of mine put me onto Burial a long time ago by gifting me with both his albums on a USB stick, and it was such a blessing. I was moving out of an apartment and going through a break up at the same time, but listening to these intimate tapestries of textures and rhythms was bringing me such a strange peace. I think I’ve always sat fairly firmly in the camp of “less is more”, but over the years listening to Burial has completely changed the way I produce music and brought out a side in me that obsesses over delicate hidden layers and immersive atmospheres.

Orphée – Jean Cocteau 

I watched this film for the first time with my partner and was just so stunned at its magic. There was such a looming, foreboding sense of doom the entire film, and yet Jean Cocteau never depresses, only lifts up, and brought so much grace and elegance to the stories he told. Not only did that inspire me to try to do the same, but I also used his retelling of this myth as a rough template to tell my sister’s story in the video for “Velvet Leaves”.

Voodoo – D’Angelo 

Probably my favourite record of time, if not a joint-favourite with only one or two others. But certainly, the most generous album that I love. Every track feels so considered, and yet raw and “felt”. Every single time I listen to this record I hear something new or a new moment will shake me. I promised myself when I started my own album that if I even managed half an ounce of the presence this record has, I would be really happy. It’s just the most soulful yet meticulously crafted body of music I have ever heard and I love everything about it.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Michel Gondry

I saw this film as a young teenager late one night with my mum when I couldn’t sleep. I came downstairs and sat up and watched it and it’s been my favourite film ever since. The balance of warmth and cold has always influenced the way I try to colour my music and the soundtrack is one of my favourites. I was writing a poem in 2019 and it occurred to me to try singing it over one of Jon Brion’s score pieces from the film, and it became my song “Sheets”. I’d never recorded something that was just vocals over a sample before, but I wanted to make the song all about the lyrics. It was the first time I’d written such a joyous love song, it felt special to surround it with those romantic strings I’d come to be so familiar with.

5 February 2021