Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Union Cafe

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“Union Cafe was the first and only studio full-length that Simon Jeffes’ eternally unclassifiable Penguin Cafe Orchestra recorded during the 1990s. Considering how long the group existed and how much of an impact they made on the music world, their discography is surprisingly short (five studios, two live albums, an EP, and a smattering of compilations), but it’s obvious from listening to their music that an extraordinary amount of labor was put into the composition, performance, and recording of their work. The group’s output is clean, precise, and tasteful, filled with subtle details and references to myriad styles of music, but it sounds vibrant and lively rather than a droll exercise in studio perfectionism. It’s pleasant enough to be played as background music for most situations (and has been used in countless soundtracks and advertisements), but there’s so much going on once you properly dig in and listen. Union Cafe is typically eclectic, and almost too much of a good thing at 74 minutes, taking full advantage of the storage capabilities of the then-new compact disc format. While the ensemble’s previous effort, 1987’s Signs of Life, was probably their most serious-sounding effort, this album brought back some of the playfulness of their earlier work. Right from the start, the rousing chamber boogie-woogie tune “Scherzo and Trio” dives into the group’s feel-good side. A few other selections seem to echo some of the Orchestra’s most well-known pieces: the jaunty yet highly disciplined jig “Organum” is a clear descendent of “Music for a Found Harmonium,” and the more experimental “Pythagorus on the Line” seems like a hybrid of “Telephone and Rubber Band” and “Pythagorus’s Trousers.” The group pay homage to their minimalist roots with the slightly eerie “Cage Dead,” which seems to repeat one phrase for its duration, yet it never quite seems the same every time. “Vega” is a grand, somewhat melancholy ten-minute epic, and seems like a direct precedent to much of the neo-classical music that would be produced during the early 21st century. Sadly, Union Cafe would end up being PCO’s final studio album (double live CD Concert Program followed in 1995), as Jeffes died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1997, thus ending the group. The album is a testament to his legacy and vision, and just as worthy of exploration as the rest of their catalog.” – Paul Simpson/AllMusic.

Track listing:

01 Scherzo And Trio 6:55
02 Lifeboat (Lovers Rock) 7:15
03 Nothing Really Blue 5:17
04 Cage Dead 4:33
05 Vega 10:20
06 Yodel 3 3:25
07 Organum 3:47
08 Another One From Porlock 2:58
09 Thorn Tree Wind 3:14
10 Silver Star Of Bologna 4:05
11 Discover America 3:02
12 Pythagoras On The Line 1:50
13 Kora Kora 3:04
14 Lie Back And Think Of England 4:21
15 Red Shorts 4:06
16 Passing Through 1:03


Producer – Simon Jeffes
Label Peregrina Music ‎– PM 50091