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