“LET THE BOOTY DO what the booty wants to do,” instructs Porches front man Aaron Maine in a 2014 video shot in New York. Maraca in hand, the drummer counts off and is joined by the four other members of the band as they launch into the insistently danceable ballad “Mood.” The breakneck chittering of a staccato guitar is tempered by the slower throb of the bass line, the melody of Maine’s vocals doubled by a synth. After a couple of verses, the voices ascend in unison, through a two-chord bridge to the hook, over which Maine laments, “I think I said the wrong thing. . . .” Later, he feigns nonchalance: “If you want to be on your way, you don’t have to stay.” Amorous uncertainty afflicts much of the album on which “Mood” appears, Pool, released this past February by Domino. Porches signed with the label in October, formalizing their initiation into the major leagues; the band’s previous album, 2013’s Slow Dance in the Cosmos, was released by Brooklyn’s Exploding in Sound Records. Dubbed “loner pop” for its anthems of urban alienation and “porno gospel” for its frank sexualitythe first track is called “Headsgiving”Slow Dance features Maine crooning and cawing against a hail of synthetic organs and gritty drum-machine beats, sometimes accompanied by the fuzzy wailing of an electric guitar, sometimes favoring warmer acoustic tones.
Aficionados of loner pop and porno gospel will not be disappointed by Porches’ follow-up, but in Pool Maine opts for a distinctly electronic bent. Channeling ’80s pop production via a motley jumble of vintage and modern sound toolsranging from the classic Yamaha DX7 and Roland Juno-106 synths to Apple’s Logic Pro and the updated Roland TR-8 drum machineMaine largely worked on Pool in the confines of his Manhattan apartment. In contradistinction to the folk temperament of Porches’ past releases, the album is steeped in ’90s R&B and house, as Maine has acknowledgedhis aim was to make an album for “people to get down [to].” Accordingly, palm-muted guitar riffs, thick reverb, and liberally peppered clap tracks are the hallmarks of Pool, along with the ever-present ambient drone of a theremin-like synth. Greta Kline, Porches’ former bassist (and Maine’s current flame), provides harmonies on many of the tracks, the soprano to Maine’s gravelly tenor, their vocals often filtered, in varying degrees, with Auto-Tune.
Listeners who only put Pool to the use Maine described may miss one of the album’s rewards: its lyrics, which warrant focused attention. Amid recurring references to water (“The darkness hanging, black water by my side”; “If I let it soak, will it become clean?”), images of echt Americana float to the surface: a basketball, bottles of milk, an automobileall resonating with Maine’s small-town upbringing in Pleasantville, New York. In a 2014 interview with Impose magazine, Maine observed that his “favorite time to listen to a record [is] on the road” and that he’s always liked “the idea of people driving and listening to my music.” Fittingly, then, the music video for “Hour”Pool’s first single, which dropped this past fallprominently features a Chrysler Cordoba. Directed by Alan Del Rio Ortiz, who counts St. Vincent and Solange in his roster of past collaborators, Hour is a study in color fields, the indie counterpart to Drake’s incessantly memed, James Turrell–indebted Hotline Bling: An early shot frames a brooding Maine and Kline, bathed in shifting hues of vermilion and magenta, in the front seat of the Chrysler, its backseat lit a cool cerulean. In short order, Kline pulls a vanishing act, leaving Maine to sulk solo; cymbals of varying pitch clang with erratic precision over a swampy, thumping bass line that drives the song through a nocturnal waterscape. Maine contemplates an absent lover while floating in a swimming pool. The concluding shot inversely sets Kline’s lone silhouette, half-submerged in a lilac-and-teal-tinged pool, against an incoming dawn.
While Maine has cited influences that range from Blood Orange, his “retro dance-pop” labelmate, to Björk, Porches has most often been compared to late musician Arthur Russell, a Cage disciple whose ecumenical genre-hopping, from downtown avant-gardism to disco to folk to New Wave, seems a precedent for the sonic mutability of Maine’s band. The politics of pop music have shifted dramatically since the days when Russell’s embrace of disco perplexed his downtown friends, but if we’re living in an era where there’s nothing remarkable about an indie band inspired by ’90s R&B, there’s still something subversively libidinal in Porches’ thoroughly promiscuous blending of the rockist-approved and the post-poptimist, of booty-disinhibiting dance music and dreamy-kitschy Lana Del Rey–esque excursions into a more melancholy kind of eros. Everything is eclectic now, but this is music that genres can get down to.
Jackie Neudorf is head of research at Artforum.