When Arthur Jeffes founded Penguin Cafe in 2009, it was intended as both a continuation and tribute to his late father Simon Jeffes' own avant pop band Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Inevitably, Penguin Cafe's two previous long-players were judged by the work of his father before him, and the impossible benchmark Simon Jeffes set with much-loved tracks like "Perpetuum Mobile," "Music for a Found Harmonium," and "Telephone and Rubber Band." To his and his fellow Penguin Cafe cohorts' credit, The Imperfect Sea sees that ambition most fully realized. The opening track, "Ricercar," is a bold statement of lapping rhythms, rolling piano lines, and spiraling strings. Its bossa nova tempo is as rhythmically engaging as the music is emotionally resonant. It's weightless and light, yet equally stirring and poignant. Moments like these really capture Simon Jeffes' essence, and the undiminished joie de vivre of his music. The record emits a kind of effortlessness that also creates its own sense of time and space. "Protection" reveals one of the album's most alluring melodies at its own pace, and "Half Certainty" is an intriguing curiosity that conjures a fairytale-like atmosphere. But there's rarely any fear of falling down the rabbit hole, for as much as there are plenty of wistful tales within this record, there are sobering ones too. The starkness and slightly unnerving air of "Rescue" contrasts with the general warmth of the record; "Cantorum" affects the perpetual motion that pervades most of the record, but this time the tone is ever so slightly darker. "Control 1" performs yet another shift through deep piano notes and an electrical buzz. Its spacy, meditative nature breaks from the fullness of what's come before, and its minimalism is atmospherically powerful. Alongside the original pieces, The Imperfect Sea includes three covers. Most intriguing are the reworkings of two predominantly electronic artists' songs. Their treatment of Simian Mobile Disco's "Wheels Within Wheels" stays largely faithful to the original. But the addition of acoustic instrumentation lends the song a warmer, more organic feel, and the surging strings are more dramatic than the source material's machine pulses. Conversely, Kraftwerk's "Franz Schubert" is given a similar treatment, but although it retains its childlike wonder, the original's strangeness is forfeited. "Now Nothing" is a stripped-down version of Jeffes' father's composition. Strings and vocals are surrendered for a solo piano piece that is all the more moving as a solitary pursuit in this context. Ironically, as Arthur Jeffes increasingly steps out from his father's shadow and asserts his own unique and considerable talents, the closer his music feels in spirit to his chief inspiration. Penguin Cafe have created a charming world within The Imperfect Sea that gently seduces the listener through the restless and captivating collection of songs within it.
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AllMusic Review by Bekki Bemrose