Review Summary: Well, that was weird. In a good way of course.
Toronto experimental/dream pop outfit Bernice tout an understated beauty, weaving in and out of blended synths while frontwoman Robin Dann delicately hums her words. The whole of Puff: In the Air Without a Shape
is very unconventional; sci-fi lasers zip by your ears at seemingly random times, while pianos jingle in the background as if they didn’t even hear a thing. There’s the sound of moving water, and there go the synths again – twisting, turning…expanding, shrinking. Did you just hear a spaceship right after a series of songbird notes？ Don’t even rule it out. In the midst of all these sounds, which somehow always manage to bide their time perfectly, there’s music happening. It doesn’t feel succinct or memorable in very many ways, but it slowly creeps up on you. Over the course of the record’s brief less than thirty minute stint, there’s an awful lot of subtle things going on.
In a lot of ways Puff
’s restraint works to its disadvantage. It’s hard to have an album like this catch on with very many people. Full disclosure: I thought this was actually kind of boring the first few times I spun it. Dann isn’t a very memorable vocalist, and I say that with absolutely no disrespect intended because no other kind of singer would mesh so well with an environment this lush and eclectic; where the vocals almost need
to take a backseat in order to let all of the album’s eccentricities adequately breathe. Those who immerse themselves in this world, perhaps with a good pair of headphones, will find themselves transported and discovering new things with each repetition.
Two tracks stand head and shoulders above the rest here: the spellbinding, breathtaking ‘Passenger Plane’, which disproves everything I just stated above about Bernice not being the greatest vocalist. She can clearly dominate a space when she wants to, as is evidenced by her dreamy vocal harmony here. It’s impossible not to get lost in. Then there is ‘He’s The Moon’, which is even better – bouncing playfully atop a jangly piano line while a crackly retro fuzz drags across the surface of what is otherwise an extremely psychedelic, tripped-out tune. The back half of the track is the pinnacle of the entire album, illuminated with just about every single one of the sounds I summarized earlier. Even though certain moments here scream “look at me!” more than others, the whole of Puff
is decidedly mum, quietly going about its business like no one’s listening. Sometimes it can drag on a bit, which isn’t the best trait for an LP that’s less than half an hour, but it’s worth wading through the duller junctures to find the gems that are generously scattered all over the seven songs.
Puff: In the Air Without a Shape
can be a confusing album to listen to, much less describe, but its own title actually sums up its pervading aura quite nicely. Listening to this album is the equivalent of floating, shapeless and bending to the environment around you. Occasionally a cool production technique or a blast of synths will puff up out of nowhere, but it’s always a welcome sound to break up the monotony that comes with sort of just floating around. The two types of moments have a symbiotic relationship; one cannot succeed the way that it does on this album without the other. That’s what makes Puff
a must-hear album, even if it isn’t all that memorable. It dares to put itself out there, taking some really odd chances that no one else would. If that’s not worth your time, then there’s always the new Chvrches.