Hailing from Malmö in southern Sweden, Pingvinorkestern unsurprisingly take their name and ethos from that mildly eccentric English institution, the Penguin Café Orchestra. Similarly fusing pop, folk, classical and general quirkiness, but with a modernistic bent, Pingvinorkestern with their debut album Push have delivered a finely crafted and hugely enjoyable set of songs and musical sketches.
One can hear all sorts in here, from Mothers-era Zappa on the xylophone and guitar duel of the first track, via the Caravan homage of As Hard As They Come, not forgetting nods to Pink Floyd, Samla, Ragnarök and the Bonzos, as well as hints of Massive Attack-like atmospheres in some of the arrangements to bring it all bang up date. Shot through with warmth and humour, the whole thing transcends any direct comparisons for the most part, and is simply an album that bears repeated playing without becoming stale, a rare enough occurrence these days.
Inspired by a Tivoli flea circus that had to close “due to lack of artists”, Madame Else’s Genuine Flea Circus leaps out of the speakers and performs a merry dance and tumble in front of your ears, with the xylophone cavorting on the broad shoulders of funky wah guitar. And so off we go on a gleeful trip through a musical funfair, sampling the many different rides and shooting galleries along the way. Watch out for the coconut shy, it’s probably rigged.
Raymond Chandler novels and film noir are other sources of inspiration, and this is so on Who Are You?, where guitarist Micke Wall squeezes in an 80s Frippian guitar figure at the end. The very Caravan As Hard As They Come is based on a Chandler book featuring “sudden death and dangerous women”; didn’t they all? More cloak and dagger music appears on the Bonzo-inspired title of No, But I’ve Got A Dark Brown Overcoat!, which, by complete contrast is followed by the folky A Postcard From Copenhagen, a musical reply to fellow Swede’s Ragnarök and their song Goodbye Copenhagen.
Suz Johansson’s marvellously sultry tones are a delight throughout, and her enticing voice combined with the modern dark atmospherics of Mood Swings has a sublime effect on this listener. Vibraphone and guitar exchange notes and the song ends at a canter, a great piece of dark pop. Suz’s silky but dark-hued purr weaves through the Nico-like and dramatic The First Light, and Micke Wall gets to add some totally appropriate dry ice shrouded guitar to proceedings that serve to arouse the song from the last remnants of slumber.
The vibraphone and glockenspiel of Stefan Dernbrant play a prominent part on a lot of the tunes and this adds to the highly individual musical atmospheres Pingvinorkestern create. The hammered tuned metal bars of You Got A Light Mac? and Alfred The Clown And His Highly Trained Poodles contrasts nicely with the elongated regretful sigh that is In Too Deep, sandwiched between them. In Too Deep is another one where Suz steals the spotlight.
Ending with the psychedelic folk and mysteriously cinematic Scandi-noir of Me & the Wave, Push is an album that treads a different but highly accessible path. It is an album that will put a smile on your face, and I will certainly look out for more from this fine band in the future.
01. Madam Else’s Genuine Flea Circus (3:33)
02. Who Are You? (4:08)
03. As Hard As They Come (5:22)
04. You Got A Light, Mac? (3:19)
05. In Too Deep (6:10)
06. Alfred The Clown And His Highly Trained Poodles (3:45)
07. Mood Swings (5:18)
08. No, But I’ve Got A Dark Brown Overcoat! (2:08)
09. A Postcard From Copenhagen (3:27)
10. The First Light (5:32)
11. Creepy! (1:44)
12. Me & The Wave (7:18)
Total Time – 59:01
Suz Johansson – Vocals, Violin, Recorder & Percussion
Mats Fredriksson – Guitar, Vocals & Percussion
Stefan Dernbrant – Vibraphone, Xylophone, Flute & Percussion
Micke Wall – Guitars & Percussion
Shiny Mac – Bass, Saw & Chimes
“Everybody also plays the ukulele and sings”
Record Label: Independent
Year Of Release: 2014