Puzzle Muteson – En Garde (Vinyl)
Folk music derives its origins from venerable working class traditions and its name reflects this. Notoriously difficult to define, the genre’s porous borders have helped to keep it fresh and ever relevant, with such a wide range of artists as Bob Dylan, Joanna Newsom, Nick Drake and Bonnie Prince Billy all falling somewhere within Folk’s purview.
This latest release, brought to us by the prestigious Bedroom Community can also be defined as folk music but, following in the tradition of the finest material in the genre, Puzzle Muteson’s latest full-length album throws a lot more into the pot too. Little seems to be known about the enigmatic artist based in the Isle of Wight, other than he is a singer-songwriter originally from London who has a penchant for melancholic guitar and a talent which is self-evident. Choosing to remain anonymous could be seen as an affectation to some, but so sincere are the songs within En Garde, that the lack of information on the artist forces us to focus solely on the music, which is probably for the best, since it would be foolish indeed to miss a moment of this carefully crafted masterpiece.
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Puzzle Muteson’s label-mates Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurðsson lend their arranging and producing talents to En Garde respectively, and the album was recorded in Reykjavík’s Greenhouse Studios, which has held host to artists like Björk, Bonnie Prince Billy and CocoRosie to name but a few. So, pedigree affirmed and beauty assured, what can we say about the songs contained within En Garde?
Opening with I Was Once A Horse, the troubadour plays beautiful, harmonic finger picking guitar, while singing in a voice which sounds quite unlike, yet in its confident use of range is reminiscent of, Nick Drake. The voice is of a timbre which is tailor made for lamentation and one feels that the artist could probably sing songs about the sweetest of life’s joys, yet they would still sound bittersweet. Backed at times by what is probably pretty xylophone chiming and strings, the song comes to a close riding out a wave of introspection.
Puzzle Muteson continues to further solidify his sound as En Garde progresses and a few of the album’s highlights include Water Rising, Medusa and Keyhole. Each track is composed with definite purpose and an iron grip cohesion, at times bringing to mind another contemporary Folk artist; Gravenhurst and, like Nick Talbot’s solo project, the man behind Puzzle Muteson is extremely skilled in raising his acoustic-guitar based songs to another level with subtle flourishes of beats and ambience.
En Garde is another essential work from the always interesting Bedroom Community and the music contained within has a commercial element which should see Puzzle Muteson gain many more fans. However this is without a hint of artistic compromise or fame-seeking. Rather, the themes of loss and hope, of despair and nostalgia, can be appreciated by anybody who has loved and has lived.