Puzzle Muteson is an English songwriter who likes to pluck, pick and strum -- and leave it at that. His latest record, 'Theatrics', was made with the help of an all-star cat, including Nico Muhly and producing hero Valgeir Sigurðsson. 'Theatrics' is the follow-up to Puzzle Muteson's debut record, 'En Garde', and continues to follow his trend of simple narratives told in a soft, vulnerable voice.
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Isle of Wight singer-songwriter Terry "Puzzle Muteson" Magson returns this week with a second LP of wistful sadpop, a follow-up to 2011's 'En Garde'. This has 10 of his own songs and a cover of New Order's 'True Faith', all presented in impeccably understated arrangements which feature an international cast of auspicious players including the USA's Nico Muhly on piano, synthesizer and harmonium, Iceland's Valgeir Sigurdsson on electronics (he also mixed and mastered the record) and Dutch sound artist Rutger "Machinefabriek" Zuydervelt providing synths and programming.
The resulting sound is as tasteful as you might imagine, full of subtle sleepy drones, measured guitar twinkles and simple synthesizer melodies. Opener 'We Are We Own' starts things off very strongly with a beautiful unison melody between twinkly guitar, puttering modular synth bleeps and soulful organ drones while Magson bleats wistfully away in the foreground, and 'River Women' is another highlight with its woody percussive loops and cleverly winding fingerpicked guitar line. The New Order cover is pretty lovely too, slowing the track right down and stripping the arrangement back to a softly picked electric guitar and later some economically plinked piano, backed by subtle bassy drones and crumbling cosmic ambience and Magson's clear, plaintive voice.
If I have a complaint it's that on first listen many of these tracks seem somewhat forgettable and several tracks seem to drift pleasantly past without incident, but it's possible that I simply haven't given the record enough time to properly absorb all its subtleties. In its less inspiring moments 'Theatrics' is dreary but inoffensive, but at its best it's quietly compelling late-night pop full of expertly engineered atmospherics and a deep Antony-like sadness.
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