Reviewed by: Max Miller
Porches (formerly stylized with a period at the end of the name that seems to have, thankfully, been dropped) have existed for over five years now at an uneasy intersection of sounds. The New York-based group, focused around songwriter Aaron Maine, have flirted with some nebulous middle-ground between the bedroom pop of Alex G and Elvis Depressedly, the idiosyncratic mope rock of Krill and LVL UP, and the retro-futurist synthpop of Blood Moon and George Clanton.
Their not-so-easily compartmentalized style and a sizeable following on Bandcamp were enough to attract the attention of Domino Records, who have released Pool, a potential turning point in Porches’ history. Whereas their last full-length, Slow Dance In the Cosmos, was characterized by a more guitar-driven, lo-fi rock sensibility, this latest LP is almost entirely synth-centric. While these electronic tinges are nothing we haven’t heard from Porches before, seeing them pushed so aggressively to the fore makes one question whether they aren’t swinging for some kind of major crossover, a la Future Islands’ 2014 breakthrough Singles.
But instead of the sunny disposition espoused by Sam Herring and crew, Porches emanate a moody, near-gothic vibe throughout Pool. While the group boasts five members, the crystalline synths and drum machine beats behind the album’s twelve tracks render most of the band anonymous. Only Maine and co-vocalist/bassist Greta Kline (better known for her bedroom pop alter-ego Frankie Cosmos, and for being the daughter of actor Kevin Kline and actress Phoebe Cates) stand out above the icy synth-scape. Maine croons mournfully over sometimes deceptively upbeat, dancefloor-friendly drum patterns while Kline mostly adds haunting backing vocals.
In a prescient move, Porches released Pool’s strongest offering, “Be Apart,” as a pre-release single. From its catchy progression to its simple chorus hook to its final, lingering slasher-movie chord, it’s an impeccable pop artifact. “Be Apart” segues perfectly into “Mood,” another great cut with a bassline that will stay with you for weeks. “Mood” has existed since at least 2014, as evidenced by a YouTube video showing how it might have sounded had Pool gone in more of the same direction as Slow Dance. The live version, notably, features a cool slow-down in the song’s groove that is absent from the studio cut, but, more importantly, raises the question of how Porches will perform their new material. The contrast in these two versions harkens back to the way someone like Lou Reed could perform a song like “Sweet Jane” in several distinct ways, and it would be interesting to see Porches translate Pool’s songs to fit their old-school live setup.
If Pool has a failing, it’s that its second half can begin to blur into one big haze of dayglo synths, and that Maine’s flirtations with autotune are often pretty goofy. But Porches are still not without a few tricks. The saxophone solo at the end of “Shaver” is a welcome touch, while the wobbling, heavily-modulated bass of “Shape” makes me wonder whether a remix by someone like Drake or Future might not do wonders. At any rate, Porches have crafted some of the most undeniably captivating pop tunes of their career on Pool. Maybe crossing over to a more mainstream audience is none of their concern, but if they’re going to do it, it’s going to be on account of this album.