Porcelain Raft Strange Weekend(Secretly Canadian) Buy it from Insound
If someone locks himself in a basement for weeks at a time, it can be hard to figure out just what they are doing. In the case of Mauro Remiddi (who has a few past releases also under the name Porcelain Raft), who did just that while recording Strange Weekend, we can assume he spends some time listening to Ariel Pink, Slowdive, and probably My Bloody Valentine because of the vocal resemblance alone. Note that Porcelain Raft is a male, while My Bloody Valentine’s vocals were often female, but that distinctive, androgynous voice is a defining sound of Porcelain Raft’s proper debut, Strange Weekend.
Aside from the voice, though, you know most of what you need to before you even begin to listen. Take a look at the album cover, and take a minute to guess what this album might sound like; if you weren’t imagining a light sound but a dense, lush texture that obscures pieces to ultimately form a dreamy but obscured whole, you can probably see how someone else did. The album’s cover is very light, and yet there is such texture that the picture underneath is not entirely visible—exactly like the sound of Strange Weekend. That obscured picture is without a doubt the lyrics; most of the 10 songs are finished before you could put your finger on a line that wasn’t in the title. All the feeling that Porcelain Raft wants to convey is done through the layered production and full sound that, unfortunately, has little change from song to song.
The drum track that starts or forms early in each song is always different, but the percussion and sound effects that feature are too brief to make a song unique, and when the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-(short) bridge-modulated chorus structure is followed on every song, we can only focus on the sheer beauty of the acoustic guitars and brilliantly arranged strings for so long before realizing—for me, right around The End of Silence—that you have heard a song too similar to this one already. There isn’t a total lack of variation on the album, thankfully; Backwards stands out for being driven primarily by stringed instruments instead of a lush soundscape. We can make out the vocals, and the atmosphere and density is introduced to create genuine emotion in an otherwise monotonous album. It even has—GASP—dynamics! For a part of the genre (call Strange Weekend shoegaze, call it chillwave, call it dream pop, it doesn’t matter for this purpose) that generally is successful despite a lack of dynamic contrast, hearing a song rely so heavily on them and retain that level of success is a real treat. Still, hearing such beautiful and full music from the dreamy Drifting In And Out to the more grounded Picture and The Way In that finish the album is almost a treat on is own, if not for the fact that the transformation is much too sudden despite its hints of steady growth.
Porcelain Raft certainly does not avoid all the traps that his contemporaries fall into, the songs are repetitive and the dynamics are minimal, but his contemporaries also cannot rely as heavily on the strength of their songwriting as he can. And more than that, despite the obvious similarities in sonic texture from song to song, there is enough variation in production to keep listeners from falling asleep. Unlike many of their sound-alikes, drum sound changes, string arrangements are varied, and remember that voice I mentioned way back in the first paragraph? It has become its own by the end of the record. Of course, the safe tricks are still here: There is nothing abrasive about Strange Weekend, nothing risky, nothing unique; there is instead just a shortage of “Wow!” And while all of these make a record difficult to hate, they also make a record difficult to love.25 January, 2012 - 22:04 — Forrest Cardamenis