Porcelain Raft’s second album in two years begins with the towering electronic slowcore gem “Think of the Ocean.” The moments when Italian native Mauro Remiddi finishes a verse allow the production from Antlers’ bassist Darby Cicci and the shaking strings of cellist Gaspar Claus to cast a spell on the listener. From there, Remiddi’s strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter are slid under the microscope, as the aesthetic of his sophomore album, Permanent Signal, grabs but does not hold attention, but rather constructs an ornate stage for Porcelain Raft to perform upon.
“Minor Pleasure,” just two songs later, finds Porcelain Raft pissing on the stage, sappy and flat, recalling the sound of ‘90s also-rans Remy Zero, a band whose memory comes flooding back on the Porcelain Raft album in a rush of embarrassment for both myself and the artists. What was full of class and tension on “Think of the Ocean” quickly becomes overwrought and melodramatic, with “Night Birds” containing lines like “I’ve been living with these feelings for so long, I don’t need to make sense of you.”
The thing about the Porcelain Raft album is that you can clearly see it wants to be great. It wants to be The Antlers as a singer/songwriter, but even The Antlers walk dangerously close to the edge of good taste. Remiddi’s voice is no help, either, often times too delicate and dainty to extract much emotion from, and only convincing when it flaunts imperfections, as on the winning piano ballad “I Lost Connection.”
The highlight of Permanent Signal is the finish, with instrumental “Five Minutes From Now” again showcasing the talent Remiddi has assembled, and closing track “Echo” resonating as a tribute to lost love. Wading through to that point can borderline on tedium and recall some of the more forgettable moments of the ‘90s. On “The Way Out,” Remiddi sings “Where do we go from here?” and it sounds like he is addressing his studio team band, literally lost on his own record. He does find the way out, but not before earning slanty-faced reactions for a collection released before the songs had finished incubating.