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Porcelain Raft - Strange Weekend

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Artist: Porcelain Raft

Album: Strange Weekend

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Feb. 22, 2012

The video for “Put Me To Sleep” shows Porcelain Raft’s Mauro Remiddi submerged in a bath of milk, sharply dressed and unshaven (he is Italian), and either freaked out or enjoying the whole experience depending on the frame you focus on. It’s a pretty good metaphor for Strange Weekend as a whole, an album whose stylish beats and melodies are drenched in chilly, pearlescent, milk-white atmospheres and whose indefinite charms comfort, rather than challenge, the listener.

Not that Strange Weekend isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable listen. It is. Disembodied, translucent melodies are anchored by surprisingly earthy rhythmic elements. The sense of “drift” on album highlight “Drifting in and Out” is counterbalanced by a somnolent yet steady progress forward through the song. There’s a ragged, Brian Jonestown-ish edge to the guitars, cutting like rusty knives through whipped cream.

Porcelain Raft’s airy concoctions work best when you’re not thinking about them. They glide by in the perfectly pleasant, undisturbing manner of high clouds on a summer afternoon. Stop to focus and you’ll notice that the lyrics are kind of silly, the melodies charming but predictable. Strange Weekend is a sensory experience that you can’t really touch, an image that you can’t force into clarity. “Is It Too Deep for You?” Remiddi asks on the slouching, day-dreaming, rainbow evanescent track of the same name, but really the problem is less one of depth than diffusion.

After a couple of times through Strange Weekend, you end up wondering what these songs would sound like without the gauzy wrappings, whether there’s a solid core anywhere in the layers of cumulus clouds. And yes, the second half of the album tamps down the fuzziness and delivers clearer, more graspable renditions of songs. “Unless You Speak from the Heart” brings a piping, circus-ready organ riff out into the foreground, amps up the drum machines and creates a bright, melancholy bit of psychedelic pop, a la The Flaming Lips. “Picture” is even more sharply outlined, with a ramshackle drum beat right out of The Beta Band’s playbook, and “The Way In” spotlights a tremulous vocal style akin to Bread’s David Gates. But being able to hear the songs in sharp detail somehow diminishes them. The second half is weaker than the first. It turns out that you are better off glimpsing the outlines of songs, faintly, amid a luminescent fog, than hearing them straight.

So Strange Weekend, in the end, is more about production than songs, more about mood than logical progression, more about atmosphere than melody or rhythm. Save it for the times when you can cut all the tethers and drift aimlessly. It’ll work just fine then.

By Jennifer Kelly

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