Penguin Prison. Don’t let the whimsical moniker fool you — this is seriously good music. Following stints in genres everywhere from rap to punk to classical (he once sang in school choir with Alicia Keys), the New York-based beatsmith seems to have finally found his rightful home in the electro-pop dance music scene. DJs around the globe have cause to celebrate — Penguin Prison has released a handful of sparkling dance anthems hearty enough to keep partygoers moving for hours.
Chris Glover, the up-and-coming hero of pop music, officially became Penguin Prison in 2009. He has established himself as a heavily sought-after remix artist, proving an uncanny knack for upping the funk factor of otherwise mellow tracks. His self-titled album is concise, totaling just 11 songs. The synthesizer is Glover’s best friend throughout, and he uses it well, updating ’80s pop and infusing it with enough Michael Jackson gasps and punching grooves à la Prince to make his influences clear.
After a few listens, it becomes apparent that the album is wired with a surprising sense of tension and anguish that reads strongly in the lyrics but subtly in the upbeat music. And anger suits Glover well — the strong opening song, “Don’t Fuck With My Money,” sports a dark message juxtaposed with optimistic danceability. The track entitled “Multi-Millionaire” hints at techno, comes close to disco and seems to be a parody of itself. Glover serenades listeners: “I’ll buy you a mountain / we can be lonely at the top.” In this case, it feels good to hear music that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“The Worse it Gets” is an especially funky track in which Glover laments everything from his perpetual lateness to insomnia. But the gold medal goes to “Desert Cold,” a sunny tune shining with bouncing synthesizer and layered with Glover’s deeply resonating voice. He sounds incredible in this one, adding satisfyingly harmonized background vocals and pipes in pulsing piano for a winning chorus.
Glover proves his artistic range — and surprises his fans — with the inclusion of a slower tune, “Someone Got Everything,” a driven, taunting ballad. This song closes the album, perhaps meant to be played as a last call for the dance party that is Penguin Prison.
Penguin Prison perfects the idea that less is more — each song riffs on a basic musical theme and ends before it burns out, while the momentum is still high. The songs seem to be curiously hung in the delicate balance between agitated self control and total dance floor-induced destruction. Seasoned ears will appreciate Glover’s astoundingly tight production on each track.
The only critique is that for avid followers of Penguin Prison, much of this album might feel like recycled material — many of the songs were previously released, and that’s a bit of a letdown for those expecting totally new work. Luckily, the songs don’t get old and will remain in Top 25 Most Played lists for some time to come.
Whether or not the album sounds new, one thing is for certain: Penguin Prison’s musical enlightenment is sure to leave listeners breathless and sweaty on the dance floor, begging for more.