Mauro Remiddi proved on debut album Strange Weekend that Porcelain Raft is a solo project capable of generating a heart-tugging milieu of shoegaze that hovers in a sonic stratosphere. Permanent Signal continues this high-minded perspective. But its destination is more ambiguous and its short length leaves many questions up in the air.
“Think of the Ocean” sets the delicate tone for Permanent Signal with a reverberating, chopped-up frequency that mirrors noise drifting aimlessly through space and time, searching for an audience, or at least something material to reach out to. The melodies create a soft ambiance of rapid eye movement, while Remiddi’s vocals chime in to slather a masculine redolence of dusky croons that could pass for those of Beach House frontwoman Victoria Legrand. This is not to accuse Porcelain Raft of cribbing influence, but rather to demonstrate that much of what is heard on the record comes across as sounds that have already been tumbling in the ether for a number of years. Don’t agree? Give “Night Birds” a listen and then try to argue with a straight face that this song couldn’t easily stand in as a Beach House B-side.
The album is a pleasant stroll down an inoffensive pathway of entranced atmosphere. The tones collect and build toward a crescendo, but the songs never quite get there. And that’s where the record falls short. “Cluster” starts with an intro comfortable next to Deerhunter’s Microcastle opener “Cover Me (Slowly)”. Unlike Microcastle, though, there is no sense of purpose, hope, or even despair. Instead, tracks like “I Lost Connection”, “Warehouse”, and “Open Letter” – although often meant as interludes – drift alone and isolated, neither coming nor going. It’s frustrating to listen to a record that leads down a trail before revealing even more trail ahead, with no real payoff. Not to say all journeys require a destination, as the ride itself is often the most enjoyable sequence of any trip. But here, the engine remains in neutral. The tantric sex keeps going and there is little hope for climax.
“Five Minutes From Now” and “Minor Pleasure” stand out as exceptions that each find a voice and move along with a sense of robust purpose and flair. Remiddi is at his best when he departs from the work of his contemporaries – be they Youth Lagoon or even Sigur Rós – to embark down an off-kilter avenue. Permanent Signal is replete with moments of true awe and experimentation – such as the percussive synths of “It Ain’t Easy” – that could feel at home on fellow Secretly Canadian labelmate Yeasayer’s latest single. Porcelain Raft has a lot to say and puts together a savory live show. But Permanent Signal’s lack of ambition and almost-there mentality will leave mouths craving something a bit more flavorful.
Essential Tracks: “Think of the Ocean”, “Minor Pleasure”, and “Five Minutes From Now”.