Porches dives into refined indie dance for ‘Pool’

By Will Doolittle

Ethan Long/Flickr)
(Ethan Long/Flickr)

Aaron Maine’s Porches project possesses the unique ability to transform everyday life into penetrable fantasy with a simple turn of phrase or well-placed synth line. His last album “Slow Dance in the Cosmos” felt like 10 distinct character studies, but its title and content seemed to be based solely on Maine’s relationship with longtime girlfriend Frankie Cosmos (real name Greta Kline), who provides backing vocals for Porches.

On his new album “Pool,” Maine strips his sound down to indie electronic essentials. It’s not quite as decluttering, but “Pool” succeeds in giving Maine’s melodies and refined lyrical style the breathing space they deserve.

Much like Passion Pit’s “Chunk of Change” EP, “Pool” is an isolated project helmed by a singer disguised as a band. Also similar to that project, any misgivings the listener might have about this brand of straightforward indie-electronica are quickly offset by the singer’s charm and talent. Sonically, little in these songs should jump out at anyone who’s heard anything from M83 or How to Dress Well, but Maine’s ear for a satisfying hook or potently minimalist lyric is more than enough to hold attention.

In fact, the understated nature of the music comes off as fittingly unobtrusive framework for Maine’s melodic ideas, something that’s clear by the first minute of the opening track, “Underwater.” Where “Slow Dance” opens with lazy, rock riffing and a blunt line about oral sex, “Pool” kicks off with dripping synthesizers and spaced percussion underscoring the comparatively unembellished “Sometimes I see the vision, sometimes you know I don’t.” “Pool’s” complementary instrumentation continues on the dancefloor-ready “Braid,” which punctuates each chorus with a weary line of bells, a sort of call-and-response between “Pool’s” equally spare elements.

“Pool’s” lead singles succeed through simple but effective songwriting trickery. The pristine “Hour” makes smart use of a hemiola, letting its percussion form a dance-ready beat while Maine and Kline’s voices soar through a gorgeous waltz-time harmony, upping the ante of “Slow Dance” highlight “Jesus Universe” in terms of just how well the couple can harmonize. Even without its morose synthesizers, follow-up single “Be Apart,” perfectly encapsulates the conflicting feelings of social anxiety through double meaning. “I wanna be apart,” Maine initially sighs on the chorus, letting a few repetitions pass before completing the line with “A part…of it all.”

In a conversation with Interview Magazine, Maine defined meditative states and out-of-body experiences as central themes for “Pool.” Despite this seemingly inward-focused approach, the longing for outside reaffirmation established in “Be Apart” quickly becomes the record’s prevailing concept. “Do you like the things I do? Oh, I hope so” he muses coyly on “Shaver.”

Maine’s relationship with Kline seems an obvious theme in many songs, but so is finding a guiding sense of emotion in the world. “I dig both my heels deep into the field, it tells me just how I should really feel” he sings on “Car.” Other recent interviews with Maine imply he’s more secure than he’s ever been, but that’s not evident in the emotions that dominate on this album. Still, it’s a testament to Maine’s craft that such isolation reads clear when the tracks’ verses average three lines and never seem to explicitly reference any event.

As “Pool” progresses, however, the good will earned by the record’s strong opening set starts to be tested by a few formless tracks, in which the hooks aren’t strong enough to distract from the simplicity of the instrumentals. “Shape” offers an interesting metaphor for sexual loyalty, but the instrumentals give the impression that someone just discovered how to use the wobbler effect in Logic. And while the unnecessary auto tune on “Pool’s” title track works well with its surroundings, it’s worn out its welcome by the time you get to “Security.” “Shaver” starts in similarly bland territory, but is ultimately rescued by a surprise saxophone solo, significant in that it’s perhaps the only moment on “Pool” that indicates anyone other than Kline was able to contribute to Maine’s vision.

The major label debut can be tough to navigate; should you stay with the formula that got you where you are, or go for something more audacious?

“Pool” does neither, yet manages to be the better for it, yielding some of the catchiest, most focused material the project has seen. Although “Pool’s” sonic switch-up may not be the bold transition one might have expected, it’s the one that suits Maine’s style the best and the most rewarding for the listener to dive into.

Will Doolittle can be reached at [email protected]