June 17, 2016

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Penguin Cafe Orchestra, 1981

Arguably the definitive work from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, the project of UK-born composer and musician Simon Jeffes. Jeffes saw PCO as the ongoing soundtrack to a dream he had had while suffering from food poisoning in the south of France, as well as a vessel through which to explore his interest in "world" music, particularly African percussion. The ensemble's music resists genre, though--you can hear Jeffes's British proclivity towards the pastoral and an interest in folk music that splits itself between Western and non-Western traditions, but you can also hear a love for Reichian minimalism, a vaguely avant-garde quality that presumably compelled Brian Eno to release their first record on his Obscure label, Satie-esque piano ambling, flamenco, and even--going out on a limb here--the chug-a-chug forward momentum of Kraftwerk, for whom PCO opened in 1976 in their first major concert. Comfortably moving between unabashedly beautiful ("Numbers 1-4," "Flux," "Harmonic Necklace"), cheeky (the famous "Telephone and Rubber Band," based on tape loops of a telephone ringing tone, an engaged tone, and a rubber band), and the clever, all-purpose optimism that the best movie soundtracks happily exploit ("Air A Danser," "Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter," "The Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas"). There's a sense of déjà-vu to much of PCO's discography, but it's especially present here, and combined with meticulous musicianship (this album took almost four years to record), it makes for a deeply transportive listen--with the caveat that the destination isn't always clear.

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