Vince Clarke is one half of Erasure, an English electronic pop band. Before Erasure he was a founding member of Depeche Mode and then Yaz. Clarke currently resides in Brooklyn with his wife Tracy, son Oscar and pet gerbil Eric.
It’s a weird thing to be asked to talk about someone else’s record. I have my views on all things musical, of course, but these are usually shared and argued over with my mates down the pub. However, I listened to Microclimate by Porcelain Raft and was immediately struck by its strangeness and beauty. So much so that I agreed to write a piece about it. And so, with thesaurus in hand (knowing “it’s a really nice record” won’t cut it), here is my take.
Microclimate is the third album from Porcelain Raft, Mauro Remiddi’s solo music project. It’s a record full of lush melodies and evocative lyrics soulfully sung over minimal but exacting arrangements. This is my first encounter with Mauro Remiddi, and after listening to Microclimate many times, I’m still at a loss to put his music into just a single category.
For me, the wanting more is what makes this a great song.
Twangy, ’60s guitar and distant piano accompany Remiddi’s androgynous voice on “The Earth Before Us,” the first track from Microclimate. It’s a song of longing and lost dreams, a recurring lyrical theme throughout the album: “I wish I could see now, what they see when they dream/In the deepest oceans, where no one’s ever been.”
“Distant Shores” is more uplifting — in part due to a simple but powerful chord structure driven by an unobtrusive drum machine beat. This could have easily been arranged as an anthemic EDM track, but instead the focus is on the melody and words. You might expect a massive drum climax, but that just doesn’t happen. For me, the wanting more is what makes this a great song.
Track three, “Big Sur,” is by far the dreamiest song on the album. Echoing voice and keyboards paint a picture in my mind of surfers riding slow-motion waves back in the California of the 1950s, a less cynical age of hope and possibility. The slide guitars even give this track a Pink Floyd-ish flavor (which I love).
“Rolling Over” begins with a galloping but subtle tribal beat followed by Mauro’s signature reverb-soaked piano. The track builds and then quiets for the choruses, and there is a beautiful middle section of cascading arpeggios followed by perfectly placed power drones. This is a beautiful arrangement that takes you on an emotional roller coaster…truly outstanding.
“Rising,” the fifth track on the album, is less of a song and more of a painting in sound. This is a powerful Philip Glass-like soundtrack filled with soaring vocals and delicate sequences. There is a cold desperation in the lyrics; it’s perhaps the most heart-wrenching song on the record: “Yes I’m standing still/They are burning all my tapes, all my memory up in smoke.”
“Kookaburra” is the oddest track on Microclimate. The lyrics are beautiful, as is the sparse musical beginning. Halfway through, however, a jarring, frantic drum machine beat spoils the calmness and serenity of the song. To my ears, this seems an unnecessary production addition and ill fitting with the rest of the album.
Indeed, this whole album is ‘clutter free,’ perhaps the key to its uniqueness.
“The Greatest View” would not sound out of place were it a track on Genesis’ 1976 record Trick of the Tail (the first album I ever bought, aged fifteen). It’s a song of magic and mystery, a song that tells the story of an un-imagined world — a song of escape from the bleakness of 2017. A perfectly placed minimal low-key rhythm track keeps the story cohesive. Indeed, this whole album is “clutter free,” perhaps the key to its uniqueness.
“Your voice above the others and the others are all gone/Things I’ve memorized being to get lost/Frozen lake in the distance with people on it/Bells on fire underneath the sea,” Mauro sings.
“Bring Me to the River” sounds more like a traditionally arranged song with lush strings, bass and funky-ish drums. However, the vocal line is hard to pin down; instead it floats in and out with no real beginning or end…a tad wishy-washy perhaps?
Track nine is “Accelerating Curve.” It starts off innocently enough. A low throbbing bass underneath ethereal drones. However, soon after, the song morphs into a real “rock-fest.” Screeching guitars and distorted vocals make this track a stark contrast to the rest of the album. It’s a fighting, angry song and a perfect vehicle for Mauro’s incredible vocal range.
The final track is “The Poets Were Right.” This is a loverly nursery rhyme of a song — a simple piano accompaniment smattered with tiny electronic bleeps and clicks. Soothing and calming, it is the perfect ending.
It’s difficult and probably unnecessary to definitively pin down exactly what story Microclimate is trying to tell. There is both sadness and happiness on this album, tragedy and wonder. Conveying emotion through music is, for me, what music is all about. Microclimate does all that and more. And, yes, “it’s a really nice record.”