Valgeir Sigurðsson's Reykjavik-based Bedroom Community is a label from which we have come to expect great things almost automatically. Last year's Whale Watching tour presented enough artists of innovation and high quality to mark out the label as one of the very best. Now they've added English troubadour Puzzle Muteson to their dazzling line-up, alongside Sam Amidon, Nico Muhly and Ben Frost, which is not bad company to keep.
En Garde contains many of the musical calling cards of a Bedroom Community release, or at least a Valgeir Sigurðsson release, and the aforementioned Muhly find some time to help out with arrangements, something which adds clout, style and substance to the bare-bones acoustically finger-picked movements found herein. Sometimes you have to listen hard to pick these moments out, other times they carry through to be more noticeable.
Puzzle Muteson's voice is a weary one indeed, warbly, wispy and world-weary but it's the lightness which prevails. It begins clearly with 'I Was Once A Horse', which gallops off gaily and never once lets its level drop. Melancholy does find a way through, though, but full-on gloom is not an emotion which is truly dealt with here, despite the tone of voice used. 'Glover' is one of the tracks where the weight of the world is heaviest, likewise the slower, more deliberately delivered 'Medusa' wherein the cries of "I'll find you" ring out strongest amidst an orchestral backdrop.
Perhaps the biggest problem with En Garde is that you get the picture very quickly and rarely does the shape or texture shift after that. The opening few tracks show very well what the artist is all about: sweeping balladry and heartfelt melodies aplenty. It's just that, as well as this is all done, things barely move away from this formula. Yet, this is also where the record succeeds, as it makes things feel like a unified body of work. The intricacies of Muhly's arrangement are not to be understated, either, even though that is exactly what they are, the subtleties perhaps hitting hardest on the lump-in-the-throat inducing 'Perspex Disguise'. If there is a standout track, it is this.
There is plenty to enjoy and marvel at on Puzzle Muteson's debut full-length and the songcraft is there to be heard, clearly. Yes, at times the most contemporary similarity is to Damien Rice, but the depth on En Garde is a great quality and, although proceedings can dull, the best way to get anything out of this layered collection is to let it reveal itself to you.
7Luke Slater's Score