Album Review: Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend




Some years ago, Mauro Remiddi moved from his native Rome to London, which was a leap of faith, a mapping out of an equation between connection and disconnection – something that perhaps subtly informs this, his full-length debut, following last year’s Gone Blind EP. Remiddi had previously been part of Sunny Day Sets Fire, who released the record Summer Palace in 2008, and explored indie-pop through a Beatles-Velvet Underground prism, with lovely songs like the jangly “Wilderness” and sweetly melancholic “All Our Songs”. Unfortunately, the band split up in 2009, but Remiddi’s voice, which was a huge draw of his previous band, has found a different space – one that’s rawer, scrappy, and dreamier.

Enter Porcelain Raft.

The legacy of Remiddi’s latest LP, Strange Weekend, is the eerily beautiful atmosphere it creates, just like the work of older artists such as Angelo Badalamenti, and more recent work by Ariel Pink, Perfume Genius, and John Maus, who invest a huge amount of emotion and cerebral conceit into their work, which pads out their music with shambolic, poetic insulation.

“Shambolic” and “poetic” are words synonymous with Strange Weekend, which begins with the whirling “Drifting in and Out”, replete with glitchy, crumbling beats and nervy vocals that eventually swoop (Remiddi invites us to “step out in the light”), just like the guitar that features heavily in the latter part of the song. A stripped-back version of trip-hop frames both “Shapeless & Gone” and “Is It Too Deep for You?”, the two benefiting from heaving introductions, with the former punctuated by a melodic, light guitar and a yearning vocal that’s deliberately hidden amidst interesting percussion. “Is It Too Deep for You?” is really beautiful and instantly conjures up a balmy day at sea. “Why don’t you just jump in,” he asks, before you cannonball into the cool, green water the harp-like guitar suggests.

“Put Me to Sleep” contains interesting little effects (at the beginning there’s what sounds like a frog laughing in a tunnel) and an urgent, splintered beat that works within a woozy soundscape that builds up to the rather subtle chorus (“Would you do something for me, do something for me?/Won’t you put me to sleep, put me to sleep?”). Yet this is far too stirring a song for bedtime. It’s redolent of the most radiant kind of dance music, later layering on tambourine and other flourishes, including an almost operatic vocal soar, which sounds smothered or under the covers. It’s the kind of music Max from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are might create when he gets older and is wading through heartbreak.

Heartbreak is something that permeates the delicate guitar-led “Backwords”, which, again, benefits from an atmosphere that remains present throughout the entire record. The hazy swirl of sounds that background these songs becomes an emotional tuning fork, and Remiddi has us at the highest pitch. He can go from this blissed-out kind of torment to the childlike “Unless You Speak From Your Heart” – which is a different kind of riff on nursery rhymes, with simple, happy percussion and a kind of Supertramp-infused power pop.

“The End of Silence” seems recorded with Phil Spector in mind, but Remiddi puts that familiar signpost into an emotional blender, creating a swaying, regretful, frayed end dream of a song that conjures up the sound of a tipsy, tearful, frazzled Beach House. A washed-out Orbital influences the intro to “If You Have a Wish” that stutters along amidst a perfect, soft landscape of broken beats and Destroyer-like confiding vocal. “Picture” strips things back again to a simple, but strong guitar melody, and a crushing kind of beat that feels like the giant coming along in Jack and the Beanstalk, withering everything in its wake. Yet the truth is, there’s nothing withering about this kind of music; it has an enormity and grace and a sense of nostalgia and experimentation.

Last song “The Way In” is a great coda to this idea, a love song of sorts that relays loneliness and disappointment, yet a hope for more – which is reflected in the simple vocal and jangly guitar, building up to a percussive, uplifting (yet still acutely melancholy) climax, and though “there are things that can never be said aloud,” Remiddi manages to try. Caught between Rome and London; “The Eternal City” and “The Smoke”; the past and the constantly shifting future, his efforts are dreamier than most.

Essential Tracks: “Put Me to Sleep”, “Unless You Speak From Your Heart”, and “The Way In”