An entertaining showcase of the New York producer/remixer’s talents.
Tom Hocknell 2011
From Altern-8 to SBTRKT, it is unclear why so many purveyors of electronica are attracted to masks and enigmatic aliases. Perhaps it’s a hangover from the days when being able to play ‘real’ instruments was a mark of pride, whereas playing synths was somehow shameful. New Yorker Chris Glover is another man of mystery, answering to the rather cruel moniker of Penguin Prison and rather reluctant to give interviews or have photos taken (not that they don't exist).
Along with the emerging Royal Palms and Donkeyboy, Glover embraces an almost relentlessly upbeat sound, with his songs falling neatly into the pedigree of pop-influenced New York disco. He has been turning out immaculate remixes for Marina and the Diamonds, The Temper Trap and Dirty Vegas, and much of what made those tracks shine translates well into his own material.
A Funny Thing establishes an early template: tight rhythms, thrumming guitar, and laconic vocals; then, a chorus so uplifting you’d best hold on to something. Compared to it, the following Golden Train is remarkably underwhelming – pleasant enough, but not in the same league as its anthemic remix courtesy of Sam Sparro.
Fair Warning’s opening lyric – "I wrote a song today" – is unfortunate: it’s the weakest song on which to make such proud declarations, and despite a sturdy chorus, you kind of wish he hadn’t bothered. And despite the two songs about money probably being written from a metaphorical standpoint, the irony doesn’t quite cut through, and taking a lead from ABC’s hardly endearing How to be a… Zillionaire! era does Glover few favours. The American pronunciation of the chorus to Multi-Millionaire particularly grates, although its Quincy Jones-like production is flawless.
Its 11 tracks are chirpier than an aviary, and certain cuts of positive-outlook vibrancy are exactly what pop music needs right now, but as an album Penguin Prison doesn’t quite hang together. Its highlight – not that the singles chart has reflected its brilliance – is the soulful The Worse It Gets. It’s a straight-playing classic of its genre, echoing the effortlessness of 1980s RnB, and embeds its melody in your head with the ease of the drive-time playlist on a nostalgia radio station.
The wistful Someone Got Everything closes this showcase of Glover’s talents. It is a strong and entertaining calling card, albeit not an album that flows as smoothly as it might, demonstrating Penguin Prison has more to offer than fantastic remixes.