What does it sound like to settle down? To settle in? For Aaron Maine, it sounds like his latest release, Pool, under the moniker Porches.
Written and recorded for the most part in his apartment, Maine learned more from being in charge of all the components in the process of creation and production, than if he had let others handle the finishing touches. These lessons are what makes Porches’ album Pool his best yet, and already one of the best releases in 2016.
You don’t need to know much about the genre, about Maine himself, or the history of his music to connect with the sounds and concepts on Pool. It’s full of layered synths, tinny drumbeats, dynamic rhythms, and Maine’s lazy but pleasing vocals. I keep going back to it, re-listening, getting frustrated when the album is over, then starting it at the top again. I’ve now taken walks to it, done the dishes to it, cleaned my room to it, and all manner of domestic activities. It keeps you going, murmuring at times and making you dance at others. And although you don’t have to be in-the-know, the more you understand the back story or the process behind an artistic creation, the more you can truly appreciate it.
Maine shares through Domino Records, that “Pool was influenced, in part, by settling in the city as an artist and a person. ‘I’m feeling like I’m in a more permanent situation than I’ve been in before,’ he says. ‘There is something special about recording at home. It’s why it sounds the way it does. Being able to obsess over it on your own time and being in your own little cube knowing you’re surrounded by the city, being able to go so deep into it and to spend hours building it, loving it: all of that allowed me to reflect and focus on things a little closer.'”
So then, for Maine, Pool is the sound of settling. For its bad rap, do not mistake settling in this case for something bad. There are certain things that can only be accomplished nowadays when you settle into something, whether it’s a place or a person or a lifestyle. It’s not settling for anything – in fact, by establishing roots or accepting some limitations, it becomes possible to gain or make something greater than you could have otherwise.
It starts with “Underwater,” which Maine has admitted to several outlets as the song he feels most ownership of; the first one that sounded like what he wanted it to be. An echoing pulse and bass hook draws in the ear, with Maine entering soon after. As he continues in the chorus, greeting us with an apt “hi there,” the beat thickens, the layers multiply, and the vision comes to fruition. The blending of simplicity and complexity in this opening tune is both a success in itself, and foreshadowing of what is to come.
The beat continues in “Braid,” and it’s here, in the first 30 seconds of this track, that I fell for Pool. The lyrics aren’t complex, but the instrumental elements that flow back and forth are shiny, glimmering, flashing like the signals in my brain, telling my body to move.
“Be Apart” is the Pool‘s single, encapsulating the overall mood and playing with syntax of settling. “I wanna be apart, I wanna be apart, I wanna be a part of it all,” Maine seems to be saying, although the way this is phrased might only be my interpretation of the lyrics. Yet, that is what matters most – what you hear in the song, what you think it is saying to you. We’re all so connected and yet so disconnected in our lives with what is going on immediately around us, and far away. “Be Apart” pulls at that string, plays with the tension between being fully a part of something, retaining some distance, and the desire to sacrifice neither.
Working with this refined concept hints at a songwriter who is aware of their own dilemmas, and uses music as a way to work through them. In this fantastic interview of Maine by Interview Magazine, he reflects on the maturing emotion that has found its way into the album: “I feel like people kind of chill out as they get a bit older and learn how to assess their emotions before acting immediately on them. Being in a relationship for four years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and confronting my emotions. There’s much less drama in my life, also, so that’s forced me to investigate my more subtle emotions. I find those interesting and almost cooler. It’s like, I’m tired of being this angsty kid yelling.”
The relationship he mentions is with Frankie Cosmos, an independent musician in her own right, who is featured on many songs as harmony or backing vocals. Collaboration and relationships are one of the better benefits of settling in one place. Time can also be a crucial element in creating good work. Although some of the best songs ever written were done in minutes, the process of turning that song into something worthy of being on an album takes much longer. Some Renaissance painters took several decades to finish paintings, yet we expect musicians to churn out an album every two years. Being on the road while touring, and other constant upheavals in a musician’s life can often make settling difficult or impossible. Maine writes essentially an ode to vehicles in “Car,” when he serenades us with “oh auto machine, oh auto machine” in the refrain. Then in “Shaver,” he asks, “I make my face / Smooth for you / Do you like the / Things I do,” followed by an erratic saxophone solo. Taking such simple concepts of daily and domestic life, and turning them into complex tunes, is an homage to what we, as humans, are currently shackled to and desire to be free of: time, technology, and people.
These parts of life, however, are what allow music to be made. Time, technology, and people. Music is both created and consumed by these pieces in the puzzle of life. It can feel existentially overwhelming to boil it down to such a simple point, yet we can’t forget that music is one of the ways we truly find meaning in a wash of experiences. Maine also revealed to Interview Magazine, that “…I really like making songs and having them. It feels amazing to create something and just have it exist. It feels like you’re bringing something beautiful into the world and no one can take it from you and it doesn’t disappear. It’s comforting. If we’re talking about security, it’s really validating, to me, to collect the songs and have these things that I made. A big reason why I do it is that I feel really, really good if I record a song and I’m happy about it. It’s nice to work through my emotions that way—not learning about my emotions, but dealing with them, consolidating them, and getting it out. It’s cathartic. It’s crazy to think that it really resonates with people and helps them through tough times. Mainly, I just really like to create stuff. It makes me feel high.”
Finally, in “Security,” Maine just wants one thing. It’s what every person who grew up during and after the 2008 economic depression longs for. And it’s in the title. “Man I wish / There was a place / That I knew / I could always stay / Cause all I want / And all I need / Is some / Security / All I want / Security,” Maine croons through autotune. It’s almost depressing, if the song wasn’t so catchy. Like a dreamy haze, it doesn’t inspire you to go out and do anything about your life, but this closing track gives you the comfort that somebody else out there feels the same way you do. Maybe we can’t have that one thing we all want – security of place – but at least we can make what we want – music – in the meantime. And maybe music is, like Maine points out, a more validating and lasting form of security than an apartment can ever be.
It can feel like we spend much of life “…just wait[ing] around to hear the good news,” as Maine offers in “Mood.” But on the flip side, “you don’t have to stay.” For Pool, Maine chose to stay put, and put in the work himself. Settling, despite its boring exterior and reputation as a signal of age, can be a creative boost, a foundation for reaching higher goals, a place to experiment and/or focus in. Maine, through sharing his story and this album, has provided a valuable lesson in modern music making, or even about basic living. Own who you are, where you are, and how you are; then you can settle for your best yet.