Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is The House, the new album from Porches.
Aaron Maine’s Porches project changed overnight. On 2013’s Slow Dance in the Cosmos, he was a purveyor of heartbroken acoustic jams (“Xanny Bar”) and lo-fi electro-folk (“Franklin the Flirt”). With his Domino debut three years later, he traded in his guitar for synths and created the sleek, shimmering Pool—an album still personal and revealing, but comparably impenetrable. Slow Dance in the Cosmos showed an artist attempting to put his heart on the line, working through how scary that is in the process; Pool, by contrast, is an image of that act—the same feeling, just a step removed.
His new LP, The House (out this week on Domino Records), marries these two sensibilities, plucking the dancier tics from Pool and pushing them through a lens similar to Slow Dance in the Cosmos’ intense intimacy.
Two months ago I rented a car and drove from Austin, Texas, to the Delta in Mississippi for a film project. The drive is a little over nine hours long, and in my swagged out Toyota Sienna, XM radio was a complementary feature. I switched it over to XMU, the station for us “indie” folks, and over the course of the trip, the various DJs played Porches’ “Find Me” four times. That’s once every two-and-a-quarter hours. There’s a lot of music in the world. For them to play this song so many times is less an indictment of XMU’s perceived uncreative curation and more a testament to the unrelenting earworm that “Find Me” is.
What makes “Find Me” such a compelling single is its unrelenting pursuit of pop perfection. Its aspirations are the clubs, the radio and the charts. It’s the sort of beat you ironically pump your fist to, only because you genuinely pumped your fist to it moments earlier and you gotta cover your tracks. Maine’s voice is a nice counterweight to the unrelenting pulse of the drum and synth combo, delicately singing, “I can’t let it find me.” If Maine’s records are about one thing, it’s this: The things that scare you will find you and you will face them. You will probably lose at least once, but that feels better than running.
The relative excess of “Find Me” works in large part when paired with the album’s first single, “Country,” a track that clocks in at under two minutes and is perhaps the most vulnerable Maine has sounded to date. But the track is so powerful because it embraces the unsureness; Maine’s voice warbles and shakes, as if to ask, “Should I really be saying this?” Over a quiet bed of synths, he sings, “When the air hit my face / And it smelled like the truth / I saw you in the lake / I saw you in the lake.” Whether this is a moment imagined or realized, a regret of inaction or the truth of experience, Maine delivers this stanza with unflinching clarity; the intention disappears into the water as well.
The House balances this duel between confidence and insecurity beautifully, coming to the conclusion that these opposing ideologies may not be separate, but two parts of the same thesis. On another standout, “Anymore,” a beautiful keyboard line locks in with a dance groove as Maine sings, “I close my eyes / Enter a warmth / My heart beating slow / So soft and dark / I talk to you / I talk to you,” the latter refrain exploding with autotune that both masks the underlying sentiment and highlights its courage. Maine’s writing style recalls both the The Microphones and Arthur Russell, combining Phil Elverum’s laconic observations of life’s cruelty and torture with the torrent of expressiveness Russell pioneered with his avant-disco in the ’80s.
Above all, The House proves Maine’s otherworldly talent as a producer, keen on details while leaving enough room for his words to search the landscapes he creates. This album is Maine’s most assured release to date, and paradoxically, he’s still questioning himself and others every step of the way. This is what makes The House so great: It’s uniquely human.