Album Reviews

Penguin Cafe – Rain Before Seven…

(Erased Tapes) UK release date: 7 July 2023

A sunny musical disposition, vibrant rhythms, instinctive writing and eloquent melodies combine to make this the birds’ best since Arthur Jeffes revived the name

Penguin Cafe - Rain Before Seven... Few sayings are more British than ‘Rain before Seven, fine before Eleven’. How often have we known it to be true in the UK? Thanks to the quick movement of the Atlantic, rain deciding to empty itself on us before seven has indeed fled the area four hours later.

In giving their fourth album the title of the start of this proverb, Arthur Jeffes reminds us that Penguin Cafe are proudly British, as indeed they were when his father Simon was at the helm of their precursors Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Jeffes fils has steered the band confidently into the 21st century, but here he wants to recapture some of the carefree approach his father’s troupe had on their arrival in the 1970s.

Rain Before Seven… succeeds comfortably in its aim. The music is shot through with freshness. By encouraging themselves not to take things too seriously, the musicians have arrived at an approach packed with positive energy and raw musical excitement. The latter runs through much of the album, infusing tracks like Temporary Shelter From The Storm and Find Your Feet with a breathless excitement, the sort that comes when you are on your way to meet someone for the first time in ages, or travelling to the airport on the first day of holiday.

Another key element to this renewed freshness is the addition of instrumental colour. Penguin Cafe have always been synonymous with imaginative percussion, and this album delivers in spades. Jeffes consciously uses a lot more of the balafon, a type of xylophone of West African origin, along with ukuleles, cuatros and melodicas. All are used judiciously, bringing character to the music without crowding its message. In Re Budd, for instance, is an accurate replication of steel pans, and suddenly we feel as though we have been relocated to the Caribbean. Second Variety may be a slower piece of music, but its echo effects are a playful treat for the ears on headphones.

Such instinctive writing characterises the album, giving it unpredictability and a light, often humorous edge. This is music with a smile on its face, occasionally stopping to check on the state of the world at the moment – the profound Might Be Something – before pressing forward regardless. Galahad is a rich example of this new-found optimism, progressing with fluent conviction as its strings become ever more excitable. Goldfinch Yodel, having begun with a flourish from the piano, gathers its skirts in preparation for a country dance.

As it turns out, the proverb Rain Before Seven… could be applied to be where the world is at the moment. The Penguin Cafe’s conviction that it will be fine before eleven is clear in this album. Its sunny musical disposition, vibrant rhythms and eloquent melodies make it their best since Arthur Jeffes revived the name.

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