Puzzle, the solo project of Fletcher Shears (one half of post-everything Vada Vada group The Garden), has released a stellar new album titled Laying In The Sand. It’s a whirled mix of hippity-hoppity vox over new-age keys, pamplemousse instrumentals, and an overwhelming sense of a decaying internet. The cover has the Bowie-esque Fletcher splayed out in what’s obviously grass, with a panel featuring the desert and a Windows 98 design puzzle piece—beckoning us to put together the puzzle of Laying In the Sand. Luckily, this album stands out as some Fletcher’s most thought out and approachable work yet.
My first introduction to The Garden was two years ago when they toured as openers for The Growlers. They pulled a hip-hop half-time show seemingly out of a magic hat, which blew everyone away: a stage of two model-esque males rapping over vaporwave with intent, punchy over-enunciation. This project features much of that exact magic. The opening track, “Pull ^ Ur Peers” features hazy circular bells, almost reminiscent of certain Kendrick Lamar tracks, but Fletcher edges into the beat only to have it fizzle out with a depreciating drum solo chorus. Those slowed, polyphonic bells are featured on many of the tracks throughout the album, casting a hungover sadness.
As Puzzle wanders through important topics of misunderstood youth, poverty amongst creatives, and the woman that he’s “Beyond Fond” of, the tracks bounce back and forth from feeling like un-ironic New Kids on the Block covers to extremely brief slats of Bad Brains & The Adolescents. “Kids” is a prime example of this catchy hip-hop bounce with a chorus that quadruples the speed and replaces swing beats for 1-2-1-2 raging.
“What She Might Say To Me,” while absurdly grounded by the lyrics “Some people keep their garbage in a Styrofoam box,” feels a lot like a “Select Character” screen on an early 2000s Nintendo game. Much of the album has this: a cloudy aesthetic; ringing, lofty, and quite wet. The final track, “Excelerate,” a portmanteau of excel and accelerate summarizes much of what seems to be on his mind, but retains a speed and urgency that refuses to stop.
Sonic the Hedgehog came to mind while listening to this album. It often felt like it was rushing forward, clanging through golden rings, only stopping once in a while for a necessary turn. Puzzle speeds through his topics, singing, rapping, and yelling, but they never seem to come to an end.