Penguin Cafe Rain Before Seven...
- Erased Tapes
- 7th July 2023
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- LP - clear vinyl
Penguin Cafe return with new album Rain Before Seven.. A sense of optimism infuses Penguin Cafe’s fifth studio album, not the braggadocious, overconfident kind, but more a blithe, self-effacing optimism in keeping with the national character. Even when all signs point to the contrary, it operates within the certainty that things are going to be alright. Probably.
The title comes from an old weather proverb with the rhyming prognostication — fine before eleven — hinting at a happy ending, irrespective of the science: “I found it in a book and I’d never heard it before,” says Arthur Jeffes, leader of Penguin Cafe. “It has faintly optimistic overtones and I quite like it. It’s fallen out of usage recently but it does describe English weather patterns coming in off the Atlantic.”
From the widescreen reverie of opener ‘Welcome to London’ with its cheeky nod to Morricone to ‘Goldfinch Yodel’, the self-described “Maypole banger” at the denouement, there’s a welcome sense of sanguinity, always with an undercurrent of exotic rhythmic exuberance. Playfulness pervades, with a titular nod to A Matter of Life… from 2011, the last album title that concluded with an ellipsis. That Penguin Cafe debut is the bridge between the legendary Penguin Cafe Orchestra, led by Arthur’s father Simon Jeffes, and the muchloved descendent, led by Arthur.
“Stylistically it’s really satisfying to get back to playful rhythms and instruments,” says the younger Jeffes, who kept the group’s debut from 12 years ago in mind when writing the new album. “Certainly when starting out, I became aware that we’d stopped using quite a few of the textures that had been there at the beginning—and it was certainly there in my dad’s earlier stuff. So there’s a lot of balafon and textures from completely different parts of the world, musically and geographically: ukuleles, cuatros and melodicas that you can hear.”
Encouraged by co-producer Robert Raths, the rhythmic elements of Rain Before Seven… have never been more to the fore and, at times, even hint at the electronic. ‘Find Your Feet’, for instance, is underpinned with more than just a pulse. Mixed by Tom Chichester-Clark, it brings to the musical melange what Arthur describes as a “near electronic feel”. He adds, excitedly: “There are elements of fun here which we haven’t really done with the last three records.” Another ebullient highlight is ‘In Re Budd’, dedicated to the late ambient godfather Harold Budd, who Arthur discovered had died on the day he’d been writing the celebratory ear worm with a deceptively tricky syncopation. Played on an upright piano with some “prepared” felt to accentuate the bounce, Jeffes feels a track with an Afro Cuban Cafe vibe would appeal to Budd’s contrariness.
And then there’s the aforementioned ‘Welcome to London’, which got its name as the world started to open up and people were finally allowed to fly again. Jeffes, who touched down on home soil for the first time in a while, was struck by its cinematic John Barry-esque qualities as he took a taxi into West London from Heathrow with the mise-en-scène of the opulent twilight. The optimism is there, and maybe a little caustic irony too. “Robert [Raths] added a layer of nuance which I think is interesting, because many Londoners are not from London originally. So you pitch up to London as an outsider, and you haven’t really found your tribe yet, you get mugged… and then ‘Welcome to London’ takes on a more sarcastic resonance.”
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