While the Penguins seemed to scrap all sense of genre on their first album "Music from the Penguin Cafe", on the self-titled follow-up they seem to start afresh on every single track. For this is still a group of accomplished musicians playing whatever music seems to come to them. Their debut was dominated by the sounds of string section and piano, but each track here starts with a colourful new palette of acoustic instruments.
They have a truly place-independent sound, making world music that isn't necessarily ethnic. Opening number "Air à Danser" is apparently derives from Madagascar, but it's so sunny and relaxed, it doesn't matter where it comes from. Leader Simon Jeffes masterminds a crystal-clear, spacious production, with every instrument clearly separated. The delicate crackling of "Cutting Branches from a Temporary Firm", and the gently weaving rhythms of "Flux" show their flair at pure sound painting. "Telephone and Rubber Band", basically what it says on the tin, even provided them with a TV theme hit.
This also has much less self-conscious experimentalism than their debut, and a greater sense of fun. Sometimes they touch on the American minimalist movement of Glass, Reich et al, but it's firmly on the light-hearted, folky end of the genre. Their repetition can be nagging, but I sense he's being deliberately mischievous on the grating "Pythagoras's Trousers" and the deep-South folk of "Salty Bean Fumble". Well, duh, it's not like the cheeky tune "The Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas" is an academic thesis on the motion and interaction of invertebrates, or anything.
December 20, 2004