Porcelain Raft

Porcelain Raft

Over the course of two albums in four years, and an armful of EPs and singles, Mauro Remiddi has crafted a celestial body of work that drifts in and out of dream states.

Under the name Porcelain Raft, he has been a slippery artist to pin down, perhaps by design. You might think he’s an electronic pop musician adept at sound collages, which is he, but he’s also a singer and songwriter who has trained a gimlet eye on his place in the world.

Set for release on Feb. 3 on his new label (Volcanic Field), “Microclimate,” his latest release, reveals Remiddi at the peak of his songwriting prowess.

As he puts it, his first two albums were exploratory, considering things he had never seen but had envisioned in his mind. On 2012’s “Strange Weekend,” his studio debut on Secretly Canadian, Remiddi was clearly on a quest. “I’ve never seen the desert before, to be close to nothing,” he sang on “Shapeless & Gone.”

But now he has, by way of Joshua Tree, and these 11 new songs are shot through with probing observations about the vast scope of the world and how we are but a miniscule part of it.

“Suddenly, with this new album, I’m in it,” he says.

“It” is shorthand for the broad horizon Remiddi now stares onto, particularly after relocating to California a few years ago. The dictionary definition of “microclimate” – “the essentially uniform local climate of a usually small site or habitat’’ – hardly captures the multitudes Remiddi mined from that notion.

“To me the album starts with nature, but it goes to the place that I always go: to the vivid dreams I have,” he says. “It feels like a last chapter of a journey. I don’t know what I’m going to do next, which doesn’t matter. For now, it feels like a circle has closed.”

The new album was borne out of a series of trips to exotic locales – Barbados, Bali, and California’s Big Sur – all strange lands to this Italian native who grew up in Rome and has since lived in London, New York, and now Los Angeles.

“I’ve always lived in cities where everything is made by humans to isolate yourself from nature, which is a dangerous thing,” he says. “The feeling I had in Barbados and Big Sur and certain parts of Bali when I went to these places, for the first time at 44, I felt like I was part of them. After always looking at nature from the distance, I was finally connecting with it.”

Over washes of pedal steel – which is all over the album, in fact, along with a rather fevered harmonica solo at one point – Remiddi sets the album’s tone with the opening “The Earth Before Us.” Its collision of acoustic textures and euphoric melodies somehow both grounds the song and shoots it straight into the stratosphere. He sounds humbled:

Like a tiny whisper, like a distant shore
Coming out from nowhere, from millions years ago
I never felt like this before, sea lions under the sun
Shapes and colors from heaven, melting into one

“I wasn’t even afraid to be naïve about it,” Remiddi admits. “I think sometimes that’s the best way to approach something. Sometimes you just have to say things the way they are, and sometimes that means the simplest way to say it.”

On “Big Sur,” the album’s centerpiece (and his approximation of a Chris Isaak song, he jokes), Remiddi’s words tumble out like a freeform poem:

Burned leaves beneath the trees it’s getting dark my body spins
The breeze that pushes me down hill, the salty air it feels unreal
Orange flames up in the sky it brings me now

Remiddi shrugs at the suggestion that “Microclimate” burns with a warmer glow than his previous releases, mostly through its luminous instrumentation.

“I never think ahead about what I’m going to use. Never,” he says. “The way it works most of the time is this: If I make an album with certain instruments, I would sell them because I don’t want to make an album that sounds the same. If I have an aesthetic that connects my albums it’s that I use just what I have in front of me.”

His vocals, too, unearth different shadings of his voice, pitched somewhere between hushed and urgent, as heard on “Accelerating Curve.”

“I felt that I was singing as if I was tired, but on purpose. There was an exhaustion in the singing, but then suddenly I would wake myself up and something would come out very clear and loud,” he says. “Compared to my other albums, this one has more dynamics. You hear me half awake and then suddenly in your face.”

“I know it’s a common thing to say, but these albums are like pages in a diary,” Remiddi says. “In 20 years, I want to look back on my albums and say, ‘Yeah, that was me in that moment.’”

Kacey Johansing

Described by The Bay Bridged as "gorgeous acoustic pop", San Francisco based musician Kacey Johansing creates songs with meandering melodies, lush harmonies and moody aural landscapes. Weaving together elements of folk, jazz, pop and classical music, it sounds as if she spent years studying in old smoky theaters with icons Leonard Bernstein and Joni Mitchell directing the show, and The Beach Boys in the orchestra pit. A soulful, honeyed voice and lilting vibrato land her the leading role.

Johansing's latest release and sophomore LP, Grand Ghosts, evokes the wilderness of the California coastline that she now calls home and the isolated mountain towns in Colorado where she grew up. Sonically and thematically darker than her debut album Many Seasons (2010), Grand Ghosts grapples with loss, paying homage to loved ones who passed during the making of the record. While Many Seasons reads more like a playbill, featuring a rotating cast of skilled friends and local musicians, Grand Ghosts was intended to capture the chemistry shared by the more permanent cast consisting of Johansing (electric guitar, piano, organ, vocals), Jeremy Harris (guitar, piano, vocals, and string arrangements), Robert Shelton (keyboards), James Riotto (bass), Ezra Lipp (drums), and Andrew Maguire (vibraphone, percussion).

Quiet Domino

Quiet Domino is a new indietronica hubbub and freak-pop expression founded in San Francisco by singer-songwriter-reckoner Mark Nelsen. His unpredictable live shows and knack for composing and producing genre-blending songs led him to jumpstart a new persona with Quiet Domino, whose debut single and video “Metropelium” (a dancey, metropolitan musing) premiers in Spring 2017. On stage, QD is currently a one-man band driven by synth, guitar, drum machine, and soulful vocal loops with occasional backing musicians. Over the past few years, Nelsen has been known to some as an expressive solo acoustic artist and also as a member of several Bay Area psychedelic rock bands, including Dooms Virginia / Annie Girl & The Flight.

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