Porches: Pool

Scott Wallace
1st Feb 2016

Every twenty-something has responded, when asked what they have planned for their life, that they don't know. Pool, the second album from twenty-something Aaron Maine's indie-pop project Porches, inhabits that realm too, offering a pointed portrait of restlessness and doubt wrapped up in stunning, simmering pop tunes. Throughout the record, he evokes a figure somewhat like Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate, drifting aimlessly on the glassy surface of a swimming pool.

The album evokes that familiar uncertainty by creating an unusual conflation between joy and melancholy. The album's title track begins with floating, processed vocals over great chasms of silence, with Maine repeating the phrase "slow motion," before bursting into an effervescent and elastic dance rhythm at the song's conclusion. A kind of arresting emotional tension permeates the record, between the glowing melodies and their dusky backdrops. Early on, “Braid” pushes a thumping house-inspired beat and spindly 80s guitars up against a weeping, detuned synthesizer and blue electric piano.

This dichotomy is perfectly encapsulated on the next track, the restless single “Be Apart,” when Maine sings “I want to be apart.” Or is that “a part”? Probably both. Much of the dreamy pop on Pool plays like party music for the shy, the introverted and the alienated. For people who want to socialise, but are terrified at the thought. There's something insular about the texture of the record - Maine harmonises with himself on the appropriately damp "Underwater" - even while the music is, on the surface, physical.

Maine has a clear, drowsy tenor that doesn't have an enormous range, but the way he embellishes and colours his songs makes the most of his voice and his presence as a performer. Assisted by harmonies from his girlfriend Greta Klein (a.k.a. Frankie Cosmos), as well as a sonically detailed production style, he stands apart from his contemporaries like Neon Indian and Blood Orange, who work within a similarly nostalgic pop framework.

The biggest strength that Maine brings to his work as Porches is his refined ear for melody. A particularly strong example is the album highlight "Hour," where Maine's melancholy lead overlaps beautifully with chiming bells and free-floating backing vocals, all held together by a sticky bass rhythm. It never coalesces into a verse-and-chorus structure, but nonetheless it is one of the album's most charming and gratifying songs.

Inevitably, there are moments when the energy dips; "Even the Shadow," with its treacly hip-hop vibes and serrated bass veers too far into territory already covered by Porches' peers, and "Car" loses its personality amongst stodgy rock rhythms and guitar arpeggios. Despite a few stumbles, though, Pool remains compelling and cohesive, from its pop-oriented first half, to its darker and more downcast latter half where the gritty, shadowy "Shape" makes a searing impression.

It's rare to find a record as full of melodic and rhythmic invention as this one, that also holds up as an unflinching self-examination. Maine has created something inward-looking and very personal, but made it relatable, familiar and exciting by enclosing it in a collection of wonderful songs. Not every record has to break new ground or tell you something new; Some are just content to drift.

Pool is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday February 5th.