Identity crises take artists and their listeners by storm—with the disquiet dimensions of internet-fueled hype and muddled potential for critical and consumer acclaim, who can blame musicians for playing it safe rather than taking the money and run? In spite of this plight, handfuls of restless songwriters seek out the thrill and challenge of reinvention, uncovering alien pockets of their preexisting sound or sculpting newer ones entirely. For New York’s Bandcamp notable Aaron Maine and his Porches project, taking the plunge into pseudo-stardom proved to be his career-defining strategy and a case study for all mainstream aspirants to pore over.
In the dawning moments of 2016, Maine unchained his illustrious sophomore effort Pool into the throes of speculation and unpredictable reaction. Previously fronting a spindly blend of indie rock and aimless electronica, Maine’s newfound exploration of the latter tested his project’s unpadded boundaries and imparted a minimalist expertise toward his musicianship. Rebounding with his third full-length The House, Maine clears a more formidable space on the dance floor for his analog productions to take root. Melancholy demeanor intact, this collection of credible pop sketches continues to familiarize Maine and his audience with the reflective skillset his songwriting conveys.
In a broader sense, The House is where all the fixings of grandeur from Pool can finally settle and prevail. Maine’s comfort zone, once weighed down by the drag of low-fidelity recording only a few years ago, appears liberated in pulsating standouts “Find Me” and “Now the Water,” fleshed out with flourishes of brass and sweeping almost-balladry. On the latter, Maine impassively croons of the meditative and engulfing properties of water—“Oh, I feel it deeper now / And I think that it’s better somehow”—and his glassy verses couldn’t testify to his immersive trajectory any better. If Pool served as the springboard for Maine to transpose his introverted persona into more synthetic channels, The House is a blissful sequel chock-full of confidence and clarity.
From a lyrical viewpoint, Maine’s deadpan mope and habit for hewing obscure, urban scenes rather than concrete stories are cloaked and engrossed by The House’s glazed production. Carrying the hallmarks of New Order’s Technique and Pet Shop Boys’ Actually albeit acclimated to indie ears, Maine takes a sacrificial leap rather than a half-assed shift in the formula. The album’s midsection, capped with the pastoral delight of “Åkeren” and chillwave-esque bounce of “W Longing,” puts this advancement into play. On the other hand, the emotional tug of “Anymore” and its danceable misery toes the line of Purple Rain-era Prince and the late idol’s mournful funk.
Without an undercurrent of conflicting influences, it’s difficult to deem The House free from occasional filler. Unlike Pool’s sequence of steady melodies, Maine savors peculiar segues (“Understanding” and “Swimmer”) and subtly experimental drafts (“Wobble”) in addition to single-worthy appendages to his discography thus far. Concurrently, The House provides another connotation in contrast with the escapist drift of Pool; the house is a space for meditation and limitless headroom where its amenities and familiarity invite and sustain the comfort of its inhabitants and their state of mind. Maine touches upon the conviction with curiosity in The House’s genesis: “I just wanna leave the house / Find something to think about.” Little does he know, the domestic visage of Porches functions best in the emptiest of surroundings. With one foot out of the door, Maine leaves his artistry vulnerable to the elements—yet, the promises that lie ahead may prove to be the catalyst for dreamier ventures to come.