Remember The Blue Nile from way back when they of the droning sonority and the ethereal vocals? Porcelain are a French four-piece Francois Barriet (vocals, guitar, organ, keyboard), Nicolas Levasseur (guitar, keyboard, samples), Yvan Le Guenec (bass) and Jeremie Prod'homme (drums) whose debut album recalls The Blue Nile's 1984's Walk Across The Rooftops (minimalist electropop with sincere, aching and introspective (choose your adjectives) vocals). But for newer/younger readers, a more current reference point would be Godspeed You! Black Emperor (check out that mouthful of an album title), only with more of a rock creed.
Cars Everywhere gets things moving with a sample of a news/radio report in Cantonese that is looped throughout the track. Despite the gravity of the instrumentation, there is a likeability about the melody that is inviting. A title like The People's Army can conjure up images of a liberation front with martial tunes or something which, say, Elvis Costello or The Specials, might have tackled with aplomb. But the solemn track does have a certain resonance when the words "your gun gave me life" dovetail with the song's closing "heartbeats."
Cantate has a Sonic Youth-ish feel without the shards of white noise but there is a catchy melody in there and all too soon, the good stuff comes to an end. Lyrically, Sunday has a morose innocence about lost love that is displayed in contrast to the song's blistering guitar work. It's like polar opposites meet but it's never going to be an amicable parting.
Lost your love? And Cymbaline could well be you dragging your feet and moping around the rest of the day. It is probably the track that best captures the feel behind the album's title. Need a little primal therapy? Dim Sum And Sleeping Pills is like an anguished "wailing" against a regulated drum beat. As an adventure in sound, Clay is like a thousand moths rushing towards a flame, only to be burnt in the ecstasy of love or destroyed in the process.
Many of Porcelain's songs are mantra-like with a minimum of words "We are pride/we are notoriety/ we don't close the door before the engine's on" (Cantate); "Landscapes passing by/ it's all going so fast/it all looks like a heart" (Cars Everywhere); "A piece of paper/ a piece of love/ a lack of confidence" (Beautiful/Happy/Drunk) or "You play/ you gamble/ you lose/ you're light/ you fly/ you burn/ a little cloud on your little world" (Clay) whose repetition betrays the tedium in a failed relationship but whose voracious (musical) dynamics point to inherent and unexplored possibilities.
In the hands of someone like Virginia Astley, this could have been an exuberant flight of fancy. But Porcelain's play with textures and "earthy" tones ground them in good stead and makes the album more precious than one might initially expect. In spite of the subject matter, one doesn't walk away feeling depressed but slightly light-headed as if Porcelain had given you a cool balm for your nerves.
Neil Young once sang: "Love lost such a cost/ give me things that won't get lost/ Like a coin that won't get tossed/ rolling home to you." It is this circulatory movement about falling in love, losing love and getting out of love that drives the lyrics behind I've Got A Really Important Thing. And even if there is an "unhappy" ending, it is one with a closure and, as the album eases out, it all ends on, shall we say, a perfect note! Stephen Tan
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