The New LoFi

Ten Years

Balafons, hallucinations and holidays in France — the new Penguin Cafe album sets the soundtrack for summer

I’m going to be honest, before writing this, I didn’t know what the hell a balafon was (it’s an ancient West African xylophone for those of you who are curious). But even without knowing what the instrument is called or looks like, the sound is unmistakably summer. The happy ping of its wooden keys are filled with sunshine and laidback vibes.

When I first came across the new Penguin Cafe single (entitled “In Re Budd”) The balafon was what swept me away. Add to that the island piano and the trundling upright bass, and you’ve got summer in song. The single was named after, and dedicated to, the late godfather of ambient music: Harold Budd. Penguin Cafe’s frontman, Arthur Jeffes discovered that Budd had died on the day he was writing the track and decided it made sense to dedicate the track to him. “This was the first piece I ever wrote on the balafon” explains Jeffes. “I never met Harold Budd but I’ve always loved his work and I felt that the incongruity of the track wouldn’t be at all inappropriate for a dedication.”

To help promote the single and the new album, the band have also released a surreal strings version of “In Re Budd” that brings the Penguin Cafe to life. The video takes inspiration from a fever dream hallucination that Arthur’s father, Simon Jeffes, had when he was in the South of France years before. The fever dream was what originally inspired the creation of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra back in the 1970s.

The story of the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra goes like this: back in 1972, Arthur’s father, Simon Jeffes, ate some dodgy fish while on vacation in the South of France. The fish sent him into a fever dream of hallucination. “As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision,” recalls Simon Jeffes. “There, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied… I could make out electronic equipment, but all was silence. Like everyone in his place had been neutralised, made grey and anonymous. The scene was, for me, one of ordered desolation.” The cure for this post apocolyptic world in Simon’s mind was the freewheeling Penguin Cafe. A place “where your unconscious can just be” says Jeffes.

“In Re Budd” is the first single off of Penguin Cafe’s upcoming fifth studio album: Rain Before Seven…. From the previews I’ve heard, the album has a sense of optimism, lightheartedness and sunshine that is hard not to love. And it will be available on vinyl and CD. There is a special limited version vinyl as well.

Look out to see Penguin Cafe live this year at Wilderness Festival in England, followed by a European tour in November. There are also plans to tour Japan and North America in early 2024.

In the meantime, pre order your copy of Rain Before Seven… on vinyl before it’s released this July on Erased Tapes.

Penguin Cafe – In Re Budd