Friday, 1 June 2018

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Union Cafe (1993)

This was the first full album I heard by the late Simon Jeffes' Penguin Cafe Orchestra, when it was given an anniversary reissue (and first outing on vinyl) by Erased Tapes last year.  The cover painting was re-photographed as above, and the album proves a good fit for what's fast becoming one of my favourite record labels ever, prefiguring their accessible-with-a-hint-of-avant-garde neo-classical bent by decades.

A handful of other PCO albums are available (like this one), and if you've watched any average amount of TV/movies/TV advertising (well, that last one largely in the UK) you'll find that their most famous tunes are already embedded in your memory many times over.  Union Cafe, however, was their final (Jeffes passed away in 1997 from a brain tumour) and grandest statement, and as far as I'm concerned should definitely be as widely known as the early stuff.

The mood across these 74 minutes is mainly sedate and melancholy, but it's a pastoral, languorous melancholy, like a benzo-spiked Pimms at summer sunset by an English country river; only getting remotely dark once (Thorn Tree Wind could pass for late-Stars Of The Lid).  There's a couple of jokers in the pack though, one of them perfectly placed at the start of the album (the brilliant boogie-woogie rave up of Scherzo & Trio) and the other halfway through, the rousing, folky Organum.  Notwithstanding Scherzo, and the 10-minute pulse of Vega, my favourites all seem to be in the second half of the album, where the shorter pieces collect - especially two gorgeous piano miniatures, Silver Star Of Bologna and Kora Kora.  Pass the Pimms!
original cover, 1993



  1. Thanks for this! I'm more familiar with their earlier stuff, so it's nice to give this a listen.

  2. Comparing Simon Jeffes to......Stars Of The Lid. Words fail me.