– THE QUIET RIOT –
The central question that has surrounded Arthur Jeffes’ Penguin Café project has always been just how much it is designed to be a continuation of his father, Simon’s legendary work with the Penguin Café Orchestra and how much it wants to be its own entity.
There are undeniable sonic and symbolic similarities, made even more explicit in the use of a dial tone on new track ‘Pythagoras on the Line Again’ (the cheeky buggers!)
And, of course, the son’s band still play all the father’s old hits live. And yet, when I’ve seen them in the (feathered) flesh, the Penguin Café have opened with arguably the Orchestra’s most famous track ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ as if to say, “If this is all you came for, congratulations, you can go home. Now we’re going to play what we want to play”. Sort of like the inverse of Radiohead’s refusal to play ‘Creep’ at all for decades after noticing American audiences leaving in their droves upon its completion at early live shows.
Now nearly 10 years in to Jeffes Jr’s musical journey, the band release fourth album ‘Handfuls of Night’ and, while much of it builds on the – admittedly fantastic, if slightly familiar – template laid down in 2017’s ‘The Imperfect Sea’, third track ‘Chapter’ is an undoubted huge step forward into territory rarely touched by either generation’s music thus far.
Jeffes, himself has admitted that “there’s a hint of 70’s cop-show about the main motif with the double push in the bass line” but that’s where the nostalgia ends.
Underpinning the track is a percussion part heavy in Indian instrumentation and the strings line soaring over the top is equally rich in Eastern mysticism.
Cinematic is a word that is slightly over-used in music criticism nowadays but there is no doubt this track feels bigger, more epic and more score-like than anything the band has done to date.
And this reflects the album’s origins as a commission from Greenpeace, accompanied by Jeffes’ own expedition to the Antarctic – re-creating Robert Falcon Scott’s trip there in 1911 – complete with Edwardian equipment.
The video (above), indeed, references this newly soundtrack-style direction. Shot in a single take on The Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York, says Jeffes, “the use of a city that occupies such a massive part of our cultural imagination, particularly on the silver screen, highlights the track’s vivid filmic feel, as does its inspired adoption of noir tones.”
Its challenging and fresh; in short, a new – ahem – chapter for the band and one which sees them finally break free and… if, not exactly, fly (as we all know penguins can’t)… at least forge its own footsteps, on its own two (webbed) feet.
‘Handfuls Of Night’ is out now via Erased Tapes.
MORE FROM THIS WEEK’S MIX
P.S. You can find all of the tracks reviewed above in the 45 Revolutions per Minute playlist below or click to access the 45 RPM Playlist on Spotify itself.
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– SV –