Aaron Maine’s second album under the guise of Porches sees him developing his sound considerably. His début Slow Dance In The Cosmos first appeared on Bandcamp, and showed a singer-songwriter with depth and promise. Maine was apparently quite happy in the world of slightly distorted, warm folk, but fairly unhappy with everything else.
Pool finds him embracing electronics and the aesthetics of ’80s synth-pop. Rather than leading to a colder, more detached sound and feel, there’s warmth to Maine’s bedroom producer approach which seeps into these songs; strangely, the warmth is provided by the instrumentation. The opening track, Underwater positively shimmers. It’s a laid back introduction, and the smooth bassline works its magic as Maine establishes a mood that could almost be described as easy listening. If there’s a chill or detachment to be felt, it’s in his lyrics and vocals. With occasional autotune applied (distancing himself further from real engagement), and addressing an underwater character (Franklin) he cuts a somewhat marginalised figure, up on the surface, gazing into the pool. By the close of the song, he’s driving around, spliff on the go and pondering on love lost.
There’s considerable depth to these songs; the name Pool might give the impression that it’s only shallow, and the pop approach might also add weight to that argument, but the reality is that there are dichotomies lurking throughout. This is a record that should come with a Donald Pleasence warning: there’s water all over, and it plays different roles depending on Maine’s mood. It’s cleansing, calming, and cool, but it’s also claustrophobic, scary and dangerous. Maine himself is the very definition of someone with ever changing moods. These songs are often delivered in a stoned state of mind, but with vocal that’s clear and true. In Hour, he’s a loner, with his bed offering salvation and peace of mind. Yet, the track itself is positively itching to hit the clubs and dance, pushing at him to stop mithering about “her” and get out there and enjoy himself. Be Apart is cut from similar, danceable cloth, and finds Maine actually relenting and heading out, with black water by his side (presumably it’s his version of Nick Drake’s black eyed dog). At the heart of the song is the constant struggle between wanting to be alone and wanting company. It’s defined here by a simple trick in the various ways Maine delivers the line “I want to be apart” (or a part?). He’s a bit more direct on the more languid Mood, which finds him waiting around for news: good, bad, or indifferent. He’s quite adamant that he doesn’t want to be there, even if the tight guitar hooks, and smart vocal melody suggest otherwise.
The title track switches between spaced out basslines and house rave up. First impressions suggest it’s a song of seduction as Maine describes seeing his girl’s body slipping down in slow motion, calling her honey as she goes. Yet, as it reaches its euphoric climax, he’s insisting on not being woken for dinner, like a moody teenager and then delivers the killer line, “I’ll watch you slip into the pool, you’re such a stiff”. There’s danger around every corner on this album. Yet there are also moments of intense beauty and emotion. Shaver for example couples the middle section of the Magnum PI theme tune with a quite beautiful vocal from Maine before introducing a chaotic, skronking sax solo. It’s a genuinely affecting moment.
It’s perfectly easy to listen to Porches on a superficial level and find beautiful hooks to hang on to, but the real joy of this album is to dip beneath the surface, and see what’s going on underneath. Aaron Maine is the spirit of dark and lonely water; it’s worth getting trapped in his hidden depths.