Puzzle Muteson is a singer/songwriter from the Isle of Wight. His vocal range, amazingly, climbs all the way up to the highest tenor registers, and his melodies are infused with drama — with theatrics. His vocal vibrato quivers in the night as he sings in the darkness. The city streets, lit at night, are just barely illuminated by a melodic guitar line. In many ways, “Theatrics” is a nocturnal record concealing nocturnal songs, lit by a sole candle, dripping with tender language, possible defeat and lingering regret, sticking to the music and never leaving the body, as if it were a war wound. It is a war wound — an emotional wound opened up by the world.
Puzzle is a poet that looks on at others and sees it all in a new light. The vocals sit peacefully enough in the middle of a rosy garden, between two fences, on either side of a thick bass note. They rhythmically fit — like a puzzle — the vocals inserted brick by brick, word by word, constructing a fortification that can’t be breached any more. Every word sheds a little more light on the record, on the music. His words are a shield that protects the body, the soul and the mind from the warnings and perils that lurk around every corner. It has been hurt by the world before.
The music has its own inner constrictions, tied to a dramatic situation that it can’t squirm out of. Puzzle is sensitive to the moment, and the temperature stays cool. Chantal Acda’s feathery vocals help to let the golden light in on the song ‘By Night’ and Nico Muhly (piano, synthesizer, harmonium) also comes along for the ride. A clean and crisp electric guitar is played with wonderful expressive, and alongside Puzzle’s vocals they create something darkly beautiful, a black sun that shuts out any hope of daybreak. His soft vocals are open to the world. Melodies turn, in circles.
“Theatrics” largely retains the structure of the song in its truest and most popular form, right down to the holy three-and-a-half minute grail. His acoustic finger-style playing is a light in the dark, caring passionately for his surroundings, his songs — and that’s the only way to be. A kindly light filters in, and the vocals lie on fertile soil. It’s a dreamy world, not too far removed from the traditional style of folk music — it’s just a different path. All you need is a guitar and a poet. “Theatrics” prepares you for the cold season of winter, shutting itself in to survive. The piano progression sits quietly beside the voice and its story, and the acoustic guitar is only a shade of what it once was. The three of them find themselves snowed in.
The last three songs end the album on a stunning note. “Belly” is the pinnacle, and the extra minute or two really helps to breathe sorrow into the music. The chorus takes you aback, the vocals rising dynamically, the stormy weather hitting us all.
‘True Faith’ is an amazingly sensitive take on the New Order song. Somehow, Puzzle’s vocals lie in melancholy, wrapped in haunted sheets; something that sucks the light dry. The original lyrics are brought out into the open, left to wither in a scorching light that conjures a stranglehold of static and a fragile guitar line. That is all. You can really appreciate the lyrics for what they truly are — either optimistic, set free, or filled with an inescapable longing that can never be satiated. They are naked, as exposed as Puzzle’s voice. The theatrics are over.
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