A sense of optimism infuses Penguin Cafe’s fifth studio album Rain Before Seven… not the braggadocious, overconfident kind, but more a blithe, self-effacing optimism in keeping with the national character. Even when all signs point to the contrary, it operates within the certainty that things are going to be alright. Probably. The title comes from an old weather proverb with the rhyming prognostication — fine before eleven — hinting at a happy ending, irrespective of the science: “I found it in a book and I'd never heard it before,” says Arthur Jeffes, leader of Penguin Cafe.
From the widescreen reverie of opener ‘Welcome to London’ with its cheeky nod to Morricone to ‘Goldfinch Yodel’, the self-described “Maypole banger” at the denouement, there’s a welcome sense of sanguinity, always with an undercurrent of exotic rhythmic exuberance. Playfulness pervades, with a titular nod to A Matter of Life… from 2011, the last album title that concluded with an ellipsis. That Penguin Cafe debut is the bridge between the legendary Penguin Cafe Orchestra, led by Arthur’s father Simon Jeffes, and the much-loved descendent, led by Arthur.
“Stylistically it's really satisfying to get back to playful rhythms and instruments,” says the younger Jeffes, who kept the group’s debut from 12 years ago in mind when writing the new album. “Certainly when starting out, I became aware that we’d stopped using quite a few of the textures that had been there at the beginning—and it was certainly there in my dad's earlier stuff. So there's a lot of balafon and textures from completely different parts of the world, musically and geographically: ukuleles, cuatros and melodicas that you can hear.”
It’ll become clear when listening to Rain Before Seven… that the themes explored transcend mere weather chat. In a sense, it’s a sonic diary scribbled from below the parapet, waiting for the danger to blow over. Jeffes, like many of us, found himself in lockdown in 2020. COVID-19’s first European destination was Italy, where he and his family were staying at the time in a converted convent in Tuscany, bought some twenty years ago with his mother, the celebrated stone sculptor Emily Young. There might be worse places to be stranded during quarantine than a hilly enclave surrounded by olive trees, though the family were faced with the same sobering fears and uncertainties that much of the world was forced to contend with.
And so titles often refer to personal experience during this period. ‘Lamborghini 754’ is named after the 40-year-old tractor he bought for his mother, which he could see from the studio as she traversed the olive grove. Jeffes is the first to admit that he was fortunate to have space to maneuver, a luxury that was denied to millions living in cities and towns. Moreover, the plight of city dwellers seemed to eerily coalesce with a vision Arthur’s dad had that would inspire the Penguin Cafe Orchestra into life in the firstplace.
“The songs inhabit their own unique sound world, of contemporary minimalist, classical and chamber music with the surrealist otherness of a dream world, taking the listener to somewhere else entirely.” The Quietus
“Warm, welcoming, and utterly enchanting” Drowned In Sound
“Joyous and life affirming” Electronic Sound