Electric Penguins: Goodbye From the Electric Penguins

Let's hope the title isn't meant literally because it'd be a shame if this is the only music we get from the Electric Penguins; at the very least, the 44 minutes the Irish trio offers up here are certainly splendid enough. That Mark Cummins, Paul Murphy, and Sean Quinn named the group after the password Paul McCartney used for his 1960s Cavendish Square pad feels entirely apropos, given the album's heavy reliance on ‘70s instruments (moog, mellotron, Farfisa organ, guitar, drum machine) and simple production methods (apparently there's next to no programming and most instruments and vocals were performed live). The focus is largely on the songs and performances and both acquit themselves just fine and, in some cases, remarkably.

The style is typically low-key, song-based electronica with natural and vocodered singing couched in pristine keyboard-based arrangements. With its gentle merging of piano, synthesizer, and wordless singing, the lovely overture “Gelb” sets an immediately high standard that the rest of the album largely upholds. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, the breezy “Soft Landing” simultaneously evokes Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and The Beatles (circa “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) while the loping rhythm in “Answer the Phone” recalls Lennon's “Give Peace A Chance” (the “Venus and Mars send their regards” lyric references McCartney too), even if the vocodered singing doesn't. It's also impossible not to think of Sigur Rós during “Too Far” but the song's lulling caress is beautiful nonetheless. One of the album's best songs, “Lonnie,” sounds like an Everything But The Girl song wrapped in slightly different packaging (it even sounds like Tracey Thorn's voice is at the center of the vocal collective) with the song boosted by glistening pop melodies and crowned by an even sweeter chorus. Such derivative echoes don't subtract from the ample listening pleasure the album affords, incidentally.

Flaws? An overly exaggerated vocal on “Supergirl” is a rare weak spot (though it's offset by the song's otherwise lush pop charm and entrancing chorus) and the steely vocoder sound undercuts the otherwise somber character of “Blau.” Despite such modest lapses, Goodbye From The Electric Penguins impresses as a delightful and, frankly, wholly unexpected surprise.

December 2006