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Alternative & Indie - Released December 1, 2017 | Erased Tapes

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Pop - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

The sophmore album from Simon Jeffes' homegrown band took over three years to record, but the signs are here that it was a labor of love. While drawing compositional and textural inspiration from both English folk and chamber music, it manages to sound like neither, and a wondrous hybrid of both. "Walk Don't Run," a cover of the Ventures' classic, turns from a surf tune into a merry jig of sorts, with the violins and cellos playing the melody backed by drums, bongos, and shakers. "Telephone and Rubber Band" turns a busy signal into something full of beauty and joy. This is an album of unfailingly romantic, sunny music that set the tone of all further PCO releases. © Ted Mills /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 30, 2011 | Editions Penguin Café

This two-disc live program of music spanning the history of the group from the early 1970s to the early 1990s is remarkable not only for the quality of the music, but for the absolute hush of the audience; there's not a cough or a clap out of them. We are thus left free from distraction to enjoy PCO's unique combination of old-time parlor stylings, park bandstand music, folk, and classical. Emotionally, the mélange adds up to a wistful yet hopeful nostalgia. Intellectually, it's fascinating to watch the kaleidoscopic interplay of elements, such as the minimalist factor that enters the mix in "Numbers 1-4" with its Glass-like repeated gallop. The music is all instrumental (it really is all small orchestra), but the possible sameness of the sound is broken up by clever arrangements and a little variation in the instruments, as with the occasional harmonium and the ukulele featured on the all-out hoe-down "Beanfields" (not to mention the telephonesounds on "Telephone and Rubber Band"). The instruments are unfortunately pushed too far back in the sound-space, as an effect rather like a soft-focus in a movie flashback. This may have been composer/producer Simon Jeffes' intent, but it doesn't serve the music well. Half the fun of listening to PCO is trying to pin down the allusions and influences, the funniest being the riff from "La Bamba" played on the cuatro by Jeffes in "Giles Farnaby's Dream." However, the eclecticism makes it hard to define the market who will appreciate this music. If you like Cafe Noir, 81/2 Souvenirs, or Squirrel Nut Zippers, there's a pretty good chance you'll like this, too. But remember that Penguin Cafe Orchestra was there first. © TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

The PCO's last proper studio album of all new tunes also wound up being their last for EG Records, but the group shows no sign of slowing down or of boredom (the album title is certainly not ironic). In fact, the jokiness of some of the earlier albums (particularly in song titles) is totally absent here as well, suggesting Jeffes and company worked at considerable length to make this a mature effort. It is. Works like "Southern Jukebox Music" and "Swing the Cat" are an Englishman's imagined version of Appalachia, or Michael Nyman trapped in a bluegrass band. The centerpiece of the album is the brilliant "Perpetuum Mobile" -- which unfortunately went on to be used in several television ads for telecommunication companies, brokerage houses, and other yuppie pursuits -- a simple repetitive melody put through several tonal and textural changes, building grandeur as it goes. The album has a general bittersweet air, more sunset than sunrise, and balances its foot-tappers with its moments of quiet repose ("The Snake and the Lotus (The Pond)," the lengthy closing number "Wildlife"). An excellent place to start if interested in the band, and one of their finest hours. © Ted Mills /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1996 | EG Records

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra was one of those delightfully unclassifiable groups. Not really classical, not really jazz; sort of minimalist, and decidedly not new age (despite their usual classification), the PCO blended the first three of those ingredients into a quirky, beautiful, and timeless music that sounds like no one else. Lots of strings, piano, harmonium, bass, and ukuleles are the main instruments, and the music they produce is pretty, humorous, and utterly unique. Preludes, Airs & Yodels is a collection (one couldn't really use the term "Greatest Hits" for the PCO) that features many of their best-loved tunes like the "Penguin Cafe Single," "Air à Danser," and "Telephone and Rubber Band" (What? No "Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas?"). "Music for a Found Harmonium" actually appears three times: the original version by the PCO, a version by the traditional Irish band Patrick Street, and an electronicized version whipped up by pioneering electronica act the Orb. To be honest, the Orb remix doesn't really fit into the flow of the album all that well, but the point they make about the wide-ranging appeal of the group is well-taken (and it's easy enough to program out). The remastered sound is a marked improvement over their individual albums (as of 2004), and this compilation could serve as the perfect entry point for the curious. Once you hear it, you'll probably want to pick up the four-CD box, History, which contains the rest of their recordings along with various unreleased outtakes and live performances. This is great stuff. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

Bandleader Simon Jeffes composed the leadoff track "Music for a Found Harmonium" on a harmonium he found abandoned on a Tokyo street, which offers an inkling of the musical inspiration that sprang from this remarkable Englishman. As usual, he gathers a loose aggregation of musicians who create stunning, free-flowing acoustic sounds that defy categorization. Jeffes includes brass here for the first time on a Penguin Café Orchestra recording. Recorded over three years, the band's third album is worth the painstaking studio overdubbing by its leader, who died of a brain tumor in 1997. © Mark Allan /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

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Classical - Released January 1, 2001 | EMI Marketing

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Pop - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

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Rock - Released November 26, 2001 | Virgin Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Catalogue

Pegging Penguin Cafe Orchestra's sound has always proved problematic; imagine Cluster's toy melodies channeled through the Bonzo Dog Band with a hint of the Art Bears' high-mindedness, and you've at least got a point of reference. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes, Penguin Cafe's debut was released under the imprimatur of executive producer Brian Eno, who had taken the onus of bringing like-minded minimalists (Harold Budd, Cluster, Jon Hassell) to light. But where the work of those artists demanded to be taken seriously, Jeffes and company almost defy you to take their music seriously. "Penguin Cafe Single" and "In a Sydney Motel" are playful pieces constructed to sound nonmusical, aided by Jeffes' eclectic instrumentation (e.g., the ukelele), which effectively undermines the serious sounds of cello and violin. It's not all light fare; "Surface Tension" sounds like Eno at his most morose and "Coronation" could have come from the ice queen herself, Nico. If there's a knock on Music From the Penguin Cafe (and from the vantage point of their second album, there is), it's that Jeffes merely teases listeners with his charm. On the second side (for CD owners, that's the last three songs), the Penguin Cafe Orchestra traverse artier terrain, with little of their original humor (although "Chartered Flight" does reuse themes from the first side in an effort to come across warmly). As a result, Music From the Penguin Cafe tugs from two very different directions: the avant-garde and the innocent. Listeners are trained to save room for the sweet stuff at the end; by placing it at the beginning, most listeners won't have the appetite for the heavy courses that follow. Mind you, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra are no laughing matter, but heavy artists abound, and musicians with a sense of humor about their art are cherished oddities. Music From the Penguin Cafe shows restraint, their eponymous second album is pure indulgence; reward yourself with their second album first and purchase their first album second. Note that, like Harold Budd's debut, this material was recorded in part in 1974 (with roughly half of the material dating from 1976), but the span in time has little bearing on the sound of the music. © Dave Connolly /TiVo