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Porches - "Pool" | Album Review

by Niccolo Dante Porcello (@ChromeChompsky)

The third full-length output from Aaron Maine as Porches, his first for Domino Records, is among other things, a noted departure from Slow Dance in the Cosmos. On Pool, Maine, and by extension the band, trade warm rock for a far colder sound – mostly eschewing live drums and guitars and instead working primarily with a varied palate of bass tones and synthesizers. The result transforms what “Porches” entails; there is very little connecting Pool and Slow Dance sonically outside of Maine’s cool and emotive voice, and yet somehow it unquestionably remains a Porches album.

Each of these songs, (with the possible exception of “Shape”) could have been done in a style similar to Slow Dance, and yet, the choice not to do such prevents Pool from being a retread of albums past. For Slow Dance devotees, this is where the beauty in Pool is going to come from – the understanding that each of these songs means as much as anything else in the discography, and yet, the difference in execution is meaningful in its own right.

In some ways Pool feels deeply claustrophobic, it is an album made about living in our current world that feels somehow divorced from reality in entirety. The claps, splashes, and various pings throughout the album are truly catchy, but in their sonic cool-ness belie an existential reckoning. At times Maine makes this readily evident, like on early single “Hour”, (“in my loner hour/ I turn to my twin bed for comfort / it keeps me wet and cool) in which loneliness is used as the guiding sentiment towards embracing of other. On “Be Apart” the reality, and move away from loneliness can only come from leaving that same bed – “the darkness hanging / black water by my side / I will go out tonight / I want to be apart” – and encountering the double edged sword of socialization in any setting. Pool as a record lives in the cruel semantic difference delivered by adding a space between “a” and “part,” as opposed to conjoining them (“apart”).  

Towards the back half of the record, Porches house stylistics grow more exuberant and intricate, songs like “Pool”, “Shape”, and “Security” all rendered in glittering three and a half minute bursts. The sole exceptions come from live-show mainstays “Glow” and “Car”, two of the most “classic Porches” songs on the record. “Glow” is the catchiest song on Pool, the warmest, and nearly impossible not to shimmy around the room to. Cameron Wisch’s stuttering disco drums perfectly contain the dance-y synth and guitar work, and the chorus contains new bassist Maya Laner's most subtle and extraordinary vocal work on the album. They harmonize on the dark paean: “I / tell / you / the truth, you / tell / it to me to / I / know / I / need you, you / know / that we are through”. It is an instantly memorable chorus, one built for parties and funerals alike.

To ascertain the second and third levels (and beyond) of meaning in Pool is a herculean task; Maine has done the ultimate in making an album that is both a wholly popular sounding record, and one that is imbued with the meaningfulness that normally gets lost, or at the very least sandblasted, when bands move to the “next level” of commercial success or popularity. For a particular (and I think, fairly large part of Porches fan base) crowd it would be easy to write off Pool as a record that loses it DIY-edge, and in doing so loses the spirit that has made them almost ubiquitously popular in certain scenes. And yet, I challenge anyone to listen to “Underwater” or “Braid” or especially the last minute and a half of “Shaver” and not feel moved in some way. Above all, Pool is some deeply zany shit, and a worthy example of what flexibility in composition and meaning can look like.