Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Union Cafe

by Jack Kiser Rating:9 Release Date:2017-12-01
Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Union Cafe
Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Union Cafe

Simon Jeffes possessed a number of memorable characteristics that defined his legacy. He was an innovator, a misfit, but most importantly, a never ending dreamer. For many of you who don’t yet know the whimsical elegance behind Mr. Jeffe’s arrangements, please make it your foremost priority to get to know him now. Through his undeniably diverse background in music, ranging from classic training in guitar and piano to his seemingly alien feature with writing for the Sex Pistols; his handprints in Avant-pop are heavily cemented. While it is with great sorrow that we are reminded of his unanticipated departure, this brilliant reissue of their swan song record is a gracious re-gift that we can fall in love with all over again.

Perhaps the most fascinating element of this quant orchestra is the origination of their peculiar alias they go under. During a recreational visit to the south of France, Jeffes fell upon an unforeseen food illness, forcing him to stay bedridden for the remainder of his trip. Commencing his recuperation he began to have vivid dreams about the customers in his hotel, blurring their personalities into lifeless anonymity, much like his current state. This preset vision led to a reoccurring thought about a penguin café, which served as a figurative safe haven for racing minds to find conscious security. A place where an individual’s purpose is strictly to be and be without fear. Alas, this forward ethos has practically built itself around the beautiful compositions that his orchestra designs. From the beginning and end of each of his records, it seems that the continuous motif is to ponder, but not get lost. Every song you hear appears to be more graciously textured than the last, and never losing its shimmer. We are given a blank portraiture and the sonic easel of color to let our minds deservedly create our masterpiece.

All these mentioned descriptions of PCO’s fabulous work should prepare you for the epic journey you wish to encounter. Union Café, much like the others, represents multiple areas of intricate minimalism and collective instrumental compassion. In a way, the record seems to flow like a wave, cresting with folkloric energy only to be followed by somber leveling, and returning with a recognizable spurt of excellence. My initial premonition for this record was dripping in English rain and dreariness, however while I wasn’t far off, the opening track was anything but bleak.

We are warmly greeted on “Scherzo and Trio” by a band of cheerful violins and bluesy bass and cello pizzicatos. The piano embraces a jolty rhythmic background while the horns section steals the show with their best New Orleans trombone style impression. The party, however, comes to a sudden change of pace with a terse clarinet introduction, eventually transforming into a moonlit accompaniment of cello and piano on “Lifeboat (Lovers Rock).” I also feel it is important to mention that Penguin Café Orchestra was co-founded by Jeffe’s longtime cello extraordinaire and partner, Helen Liebmann. The easily traceable splendor of cello, whether in the spotlight or not, never shy away when it matters most. This theme unequivocally continues with tracks “Cage Dead” and “Nothing Really Blue.” “Yodel 3” takes a unique turn and embraces European flare, specifically Spanish and French, with flamenco guitar notes and authentic accordion. The next three tracks “Another One from Porlock”, “Thorn Tree Wind” and “Silver Star of Bologna” signify the calmer, more ambient side to the record. The layers of minimalism like Silver Star’s transformative piano opus allows for the listener to become one with the ocean. Each of the three provide their own version of organic beauty, by shortening the amount of extracurricular elements they put into it. My preconceived idea of adventure is finally exercised in the grandiose oeuvre “Discovering America.” I’ll let you figure out how you want to envision this one. Finally concluding, it would be disgrace to skip over “Lie back and think of England” serving as a “Canon in D” -eque marital homage to his homeland. As for the last song, the folkloric buzz resurfaces back into frame, ending in an ominous leaky faucet drip.

I am fairly astounded I was able to illustrate many of the elements that were prevalent in this dazzling swan song. While many albums properly receive reissues and remasters to guarantee some washed up musicians temporary relevance, this one seems to re-emphasize the creation of a sheer masterpiece. The elements that I described are nothing but a template for you to choose your adventure. From the choir-like singing of the horns in “Red Shorts” or the patient temperament of “Vega”, PCO gives you a variety of options for your preferred state of mind.

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