Saturday, 7 September 2013

Review: 'Permanent Signal' by Porcelain Raft

Do you guys still remember Porcelain Raft, the indie musician whose debut Strange Weekend I reviewed a little while ago? Did you like it? In case you did, well, have I got news for you: he's got a new record out! His sophomore album Permanent Signal was released a bit less than three weeks ago. The day it was released I had some trouble sleeping due anxiety, so I took my phone, opened Spotify, bought a raspberry ice cream and left for a nightly walk to check out the album. It turned out to be the perfect context for a first listen.

Permanent signal is a term that, according to Wikipedia, means "a condition in which a POTS line [or, more simply put, a phone line] is off-hook without connection for an extended period of time", which paints an image of loneliness - a theme further emphasised by the official album trailer:

The title describes the album quite fittingly: the songs tell stories of loneliness and alienation - rather like the first album did. The two albums have a lot in common, but one thing that separates Permanent Signal from its predecessor is its soundscape: this time Porcelain Raft gets much more ambient, which obviously comes at the expense of catchy tunes. Indeed, the album has several instrumental numbers that do create a wonderful, dreamy atmosphere, but the only time that the listener is truly shaken awake is during the anthemic "The Way Out" (that might or might not be a sequel to 2012's "The Way In"). The deliciously dark and pulsating song is a stand-out moment on the otherwise ambience-oriented record. I've already written about the music video but here it is once again:

It really is a great track, and personally I'd say one of 2013's highlights. But then, how's the rest of the material? As I indicated before, the album is very downbeat and doesn't really have any obvious singles other than "The Way Out" - no moments like "Unless You Speak From Your Heart" and "Drifting In And Out" here, I'm afraid - but once you're okay with that you can properly start to appreciate the album. "Cluster" and "Night Birds" see Porcelain Raft channel shoegaze, even sounding a little like The Smashing Pumpkins in the process. "It Ain't Over" is a bit more upbeat effort while the album opener "Think Of The Ocean", also featured in the trailer above, is a melancholic cello-tinged tune that leads the listener into the dreamy journey that the album really is. "Warehouse", one of the instrumental tracks, is a haunting two-minute piano piece. Another brilliant instrumental is "Five Minutes From Now", which follows "The Way Out" and leads to the sentimental album closer "Echo", one of the record's strongest tracks.

In the end, the album ends up sounding like a soundtrack to a movie, or perhaps a TV series such as Skins - minus the drug-fuelled party moments, that is. "Minor Pleasure", for example, sounds like it could be playing during the end credits of a Skins episode (which is kind of funny since I originally discovered the artist through the series in question) and the intro could easily be from a Fat Segal track. So if you're looking for an album full of "bangerz", you'd better turn to Miley Cyrus, but remember that this is meant to be a story about loneliness so keep that in mind. If you are, however, looking for a record for those lonely, darkening autumn evenings - or 40-minute nocturnal strolls - look no further.

3½ / 5

Try at least: "Think of the Ocean", "The Way Out", "Echo"

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