Porcelain Raft, ‘Permanent Signal’ – Album Review
Change is good, but transition can be hard. It’s a theme that clings to much of New York-via-London-via Italy musician Mauro Remiddi’s sophomore record as Porcelain Raft. Prior to the release of the new album, Remiddi admitted that moving around the globe had made him feel estranged from close friends, and he said he'd actually find himself having imaginary conversations with those old acquaintances.
It’s a compelling emotional and thematic hook for an album, and 'Permanent Signal' attempts to explore the effects of transitioning from one place to another while leaving all those prior connections behind.
For 'Permanent Signal,' Remiddi exchanges the hazy, synth-heavy chamber-electro of his first record, 'Strange Weekend,' for a more organic full-band sound. He even recruits members of other heavyweight indie acts such as the Antlers, Yuck, and the National. But interestingly enough, the result sounds much the same as 'Strange Weekend,' only with guitars, strings and pianos rather than a runny haze of synths (though synths are part of the equation as well). Much of that has to do with the record’s deep-end, reverb-drenched production and Remiddi’s tendency toward bleach-bombed ambiance, expansive pop melodies and near post-rock grandeur.
'Permanent Signal' is an easy enough album to like, but it’s a harder album to love. Its strengths and weaknesses are nearly identical to those of its predecessor. The album is filled with immersive sonics and endlessly majestic hooks, but for the most part, it runs out of ideas about halfway through, and the change in instrumentation and general approach isn’t enough to distinguish the record in any meaningful way from other dreamy, psychedelic-tinged pop outfits, like the aforementioned Antlers or Exitmusic.
Not that the album should be written off entirely. It starts strong with ‘Think Of The Ocean’ and ‘Cluster,’ the former with its whiny cellos, the latter with its creamy, fuzzy guitar hook. But by ‘Night Birds,’ the songs start to blur together, and the floaty, catharsis-driven emotions that populate the record don’t always feel entirely earned. There are exceptions, of course. The thematic centerpiece, ‘I Lost Connection,’ is a wavering piano ballad accompanied by a forlorn trumpet, and Remiddi’s vocal delivery is uncharacteristically raw and fumbling. It might be the only moment on the album where Remiddi and the music step out from behind the curtain of atmospheric sameness.
And that's emblematic of 'Permanent Signal' as a whole. Remiddi obviously has a lot to communicate, and conceptually, the record is interesting. But in order for the loss and longing of the lyrics to work, he needs to dial back his devotion to a surface level, reverb-driven aesthetic and make those emotions feel real.