New Yorker Aaron Maine has made a promising career out of emotionally driven pop music for the sad and the soft-hearted, first on his 2013 album Slow Dance in the Cosmos and then on 2016’s Pool.
The former was, at its core, a rock ‘n’ roll record, built largely around guitars and drums and embellished with electronic elements. The latter, on the other hand, featured lush synth arrangements and more vocal effects. On each, Maine delivered his shadowy tunes with healthy doses of melancholy and unease.
Maine’s third album as Porches, The House, digs deeper into those feelings while also stripping back his arrangements, landing somewhere near the nexus of bedroom disco-pop and basic house music. The most successful example of this aesthetic is the song “Find Me,” which shuffles and pulses likably as Maine flatly croons about staying inside and sinking into himself. The song’s weird little touches —whimsical backing vocals, flickering synths—set it apart from The House’s prevailing austerity.
Other highlights include a relatively funky chunk of AutoTuned club-pop called “Anymore,” the warped and gauzy “W Longing,” and the redemption song “Now the Water,” home to the album’s catchiest chorus, which shimmers with ‘80s elegance. There are times, too, when Maine shines at a slower pace, most notably “Wobble,” where heartbroken torpor slips through the song’s skeletal buzz. And among the four tracks here that clock in under two minutes long, the gorgeously unhurried “Country” is the one that most deserves to, say, double in run time.
Highlights aside, however, The House as a whole feels thin. It feels thin in those short tracks that feel more like sketches than songs. It often feels thin lyrically, as if Maine is trying to communicate deep feelings without pushing beyond the surface. Take, for example, this verse in “Leave The House,” the album’s opening track:
I would tell you if I knew
What I needed you to do
But I can’t see through the blue
And I have not a clue
Nestled between better verses that touch on relationship and inertia and maturity and independence, that one leaves a gaping hole in The House’s first impression.
And finally, the album feels thin sonically. That’s by design, according to Maine — the third Porches album is a conscious effort in minimalism, he says — but when you listen to the whole thing at once, its limitations reveal themselves. Songs bump confidently on their own, but as a family, they meander.
The House feels like a transitional work, one saddled with stylistic experiments and themes of rebirth, renewal, self-discovery and so on. Perhaps that bodes well for Porches Album #4, whenever it arrives. And perhaps it will tie up some of The House’s loose ends.