REVIEW: PENGUIN PRISON – PENGUIN PRISON (2011)
Chris Glover’s a humble, quiet guy from NYC. At least that’s what I got from him when we spoke back at SXSW. His music? Bright, extroverted, and hooks interspersed in dance beats that would fulfill any hopeful expectation of an electrifying Friday night. Talking with him (the interview can be found here), I could tell he would be promising by two things: he didn’t discriminate towards any genres due to his music past, a sort of rare Darwin-at-lightspeed adaptation that is highly regarded at least in my view, and his level of independence was remarkable when it came to remixes. His process is to not listen to the original before remixing, then visiting the actual track once his version is completed. It lends a bit of respectable authenticity to what he may come out with. Now in mid-October, we have his debut album Penguin Prison of eleven pop-electronic tracks attesting to what a voracious appetite for all pop can create in a collected, talented musician.
The gist is that Penguin Prison gives us a 1980s male vocalist voice (without the over-saturated, distracting neon lights), layered in 1970s funk with today’s electronic music. On the lead track, “Don’t Fuck With My Money”, Chris Glover exercises the versatility of his voice, warning “better start to run if it happens again” over a police drone of an electric fuzzed guitar. The song is basically a testament to all those times feeling financially cheated, likely in a friendship or relationship, yet the pop sensibility heralds future caution without feeling outright C.R.E.A.M. thanks to the acoustic guitar strums and bass funk.
Funk permeates the guitar and bass on the self-titled album. “Golden Train” has these subtle strums in the verse, while you can find it everywhere else as the foundation. The bass lines don’t go off into crazy, windy solos and neither do many of the interments-so you’re focused and not at risk of a windy funk detour of a song going into a jam band. However, these songs would heartily welcome a prolonged DJ set/dance party. Leading into the final chorus, for example, could perfectly fit a lazy, gradual hypnotic crescendo before Glover’s singing breaks back in. The above video for “Fair Warning” is the best track portraying his dynamic vocal range, growling into multi-level pure pop.
With all the retro-nostalgia going on, threatening to head into the 90s of most recent, Glover focuses on what may have been the pinnacle of pop in the 1980s. “The Worse It Gets” feels chronologically displaced through its synths, and the single line “I’ve got a car, that I call Jenny. I take her out, when there’s too much noise in my head.” The staccato keys reinforce that time warp, while the drums thankfully are rooted in today’s and far from the stunted drum kits of yore. “Pinocchio” is similar, employing electronic Paper Boy-braking scuffs to accompany the choruses.
Penguin Prison’s debut is a solid blast from the past that’s reconditioned for today, akin to your favorite coming-of-age or relationship movie making the big switch to today’s 3D-without the gimmicks. It’s varied enough as well, not relying on heavy synths but encompassing the range of instruments in his arsenal. “Someone Got Everything” and its acoustic guitar is the prime example, closing out the album in a walking ballad on its strongest note. While I’d love to hear Chris Glover tackle another genre given his music knowledge, I wouldn’t mind seeing Penguin Prison around for some time to come.