by Preston Radtke
The third LP from Porches is nothing short of magnificently flawed and supremely disappointing. The House is cut from the same synth-pop mold as 2016’s Pool minus the intimate production and catchy melodies. The first two records from Porches, Slow Dance in the Cosmos and Pool, both showed impressive promise for a musician who had yet to crack the quarter-century mark. Though they differed dramatically in style, they both had effective production and personality to spare. However, The House is simply malevolent in its mediocrity and blandness. Here’s hoping that on their next release Porches harkens back to whatever musical fairy dust they partook in during 2013 or 2016.
In The House, the synth popped
It’s clear that Porches was aiming for a more mature and professional brand of synth-pop on The House. Sadly, what they ended up with were awkward grooves atop surprisingly mundane beats. “Find Me”, one of the album’s supposed ‘hits’, finds a clumsy and downbeat synth section layered above an aggressive, out-of-character beat orchestration. It sounds like it should be pumping out of the speakers at the nearest Jazzersize class, not the record of some indie try-hard. This mismatching of style and execution is omnipresent throughout this record; “Anymore” and “By My Side” are other examples of this most unfortunate new virus.
While combining irregular textures is the most egregious of the synth-pop crimes, another is the overall misunderstanding of tempo and instrumentation. Time and time again on The House, Maine composes tracks with vocals, instrumentation and percussion that just don’t seem to mesh together rhythmically. The opening cut, “Leave the House”, has a synthetic instrumental just begging for an effective intelligence dance music (IDM) beat or even a mainstream hip-hop beat. What we get is something unsure and slightly out-of-step, a beat that features synthetic cymbals that bizarrely enough are much more aggressive and fast-paced than the snare or bass. It’s almost like the cymbals are trying to speed up their percussive cousins, but they stodgily object.
Aaron Maine’s voice needs to get out of the garage
Slow Dance in the Cosmos was effective in large part because of how well Aaron Maine’s voice blended in with the aesthetic of the music. The debut release was a tight collection of garage rock with an indie bow on top. Maine’s voice was rough and grave enough to make any Julian Casablancas acolyte blush. Maine kept this denim-jacket wearing, long-haired vocal style throughout Pool. On Pool though, his melodies and landmark instrumentals made his voice sound quirky, not out of place.
That all changed on The House. Maine doesn’t seem to realize that he’s working with a synth-pop/electronic project, not a band that opens for Parquet Courts. Rough and raw do not lend themselves well to glossy and electronic. He does deserve some admiration for not hiding in reverb or vocoder, but his singular, unvarnished voice just does not work on this record. We’ll look to “Leave the House” again, where Maine’s vocal misappropriation is on peak display. This song is begging for a smooth, measured delivery, not a raspy and brash one.
If Maine isn’t going to doctor his voice at all or even change his style, he should at least craft songs that don’t demand that he undergo any major cliffs or valleys. “Country”, one of the shorter and least synthy cuts, is a slow, sensual burn that allows us to get more intimate and introspective.
That intimacy and introspection is rooted in Maine’s slow, prudent vocal delivery. He sings with a certain refined grace not found on many other songs off the album. “Country” is one of the rare instances where the audience feels a contextual connection to what Maine is drawling on about.
The House has no “Maine” point
When listening to this LP one question kept arising: So what’s this about? What inevitably followed was the proverbial blank stare of the soul. There is a mighty contextual disconnect on this record. Maine’s vocals are far too generic and almost cookie-cutter to form any lyrical meaning. Furthermore, the instrumentals are so disjointed and fractured that any understanding of what they are trying to say is miserably lost.
It’s unclear what needed to be more emphatic: Maine’s vocals or the backing instrumentation. In many cases it’s probably that they both lack the needed fervor and relatability required for a successful sound. Frankly speaking, if someone was going to make a musical interpretation of the uber politically correct individual, this would not be an awful representation.
On many records, the music is meant to embolden the listener or force them to look inward at themselves; it becomes a vehicle through which the listener learns something about themselves. Ambient powers like The Orb and DJ Shadow are premier examples. However, The House allows for no such introspection or self-analysis. The instrumentals are far too basic and shallow. The beauty of introspective music is that the textures and instrumentals are so intricate that they open the listener’s mind and allow them to observe both themselves and the world around them unbiased. The House’s textures are way too familiar and predictable for this. Instead of looking inward, the listener thinks about what they’re having for dinner, or who the new anchor is on the 5 o’clock news.
“Now the Water”
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Featured image from Porches Music
'The House' by Porches falls short in so many ways. From the invasion into the synth-pop world to the horribly unfitting vocals, virtually everything on this album is a disappointment. With luck though, Aaron Maine and co. will learn from this colossal waste of time and build something with greater depth and refinement in the future.