In her last album, My Unwinding State, Sarah Schonert used her blend of piano and electric instrumentation to create a poetic and emotional exploration. Using the same musical techniques, she returns with Penguin Party — an album that brings more danceable, more beat-focused tracks.
Once again, Schonert deals in the concrete and the ethereal at once. The songs that are more grounded are the most moveable. These include the album opener and pace-setter “Astound Me”, and the lyric-less and rhythmic “Overdriving Headlights”. When she moves into another world, it is usually with the help of layered, whispered vocals and electronic loops. In this way “Listen Soak Repeat” strikes delicacy and “You Still Awake” finds drive in the build-up.
The music makes its most defined strides into experimental territory with the vocals. Sarah Schonert has a distinct waver and lilt to her voice, which she layers to create a sense of spaciousness. In “Tree With Feet” she pairs sweet melodies with speaking, with shouting, and with a piano line that dips into the ominous. This edge and sense of risks being taken helps Penguin Party to feel raw — even amongst electronic soundscapes — so that when the instrumental transition tracks appear they feel warranted and productive. This is most notable on “Penguin Party” and “Glacier Dive”.
Penguin Party takes what Schonert has already shown she excels at and twisted it in a new direction — a refreshing turn that adds depth by focusing on the surface first.