Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Penguin Cafe Orchestra

· music ·

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After many years of not listening to them, I've become enthralled again by the magic of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. It wasn't that I wanted to stop listening to them, but I was introduced to them by my ex-boyfriend in the mid-90s, and when we parted, I was left Penguin Cafe-less as well as boyfriend-less. Having said that, I'm not sure why it took me so long to acquire their albums again, because theirs is a very joyful and life-affirming kind of music. Much of the music I listen to is very difficult to classify (which is part of the reason I like it, I suppose), but the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO) really defies being pigeon-holed. It is somehow instantly recognisable, and wholly characteristic of PCO. Perhaps it's best to let the founder and proprietor of the Penguin Cafe explain it himself. Sadly, he died of an inoperable brain tumour in 1997, but in his obituary here, I found a quote of his which sums up PCO for me:

"Ideally I suppose it is the sort of music you want to hear, music that will lift your spirit. It is the sort of music played by imagined wild, free mountain people creating sounds of a subtle dream-like quality. It is cafe music, but cafe in the sense of a place where people's spirits communicate and mingle, a place where music is played but often touches the heart of the listener".

This — their second album — epitomises their light but intricate style. The accurately named 'Telephone and Rubber Band' (featuring a dial tone interspersed with an engaged tone and a rubber band) is probably familiar to many people as it has been used on several commercials. I love 'Air A Danser' — a breezy tangle of melodic lines which is wonderfully easy to listen to. Just hearing it makes me think of driving down lovely country lanes in the summer with the windows open, smelling cut grass.

'Pythagoras's Trousers' — quite apart from its superb name — is like a bouncy reel written for a really cute cartoon. Actually, the PCO have wonderful track titles; 'Salty Bean Fumble' is another big favourite of mine. 'Cutting Branches For a Temporary Shelter' has the feel of West African folk music, gentle and delicate.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra are well worth seeking out if you haven't heard them before. We all need music to lift our spirits occasionally.