The idea of a summer album is one that’s existed for a long time. A quick google of the “best summer albums” names artists spanning decades; from Best Coast to The Beatles. Yet this idea of a summer album tends to be rooted in fantasy, entertaining a perfect idea of summer, as opposed to anything based in reality. Pool is a summer album, but Aaron Maine (as Porches) entertains no pretence of paradise. Pool is summer presented through a lens of boredom and malaise, with a mood that oscillates between moments of joy, melancholy and menace.
The last Porches album – Slow Dance the Cosmos – explored fairly standard jangle-guitar territory, but it was Maine’s voice and lyrics that stood out. He told stories about romance, but from a uniquely realist and cynical perspective, and the songs were filled with details that rang true to everyday life. Anyone who opens their album with “I give you head / before you head” is doing something interesting. But with Pool, Maine takes all the potential of his previous work and focuses it down to something razor-sharp, a uniquely hazy and surreal take on synth-pop.
Sonically, Pool is kind of like Real Estate by way of The Knife, and the Drive Soundtrack, combining the dreamy melodies of the former with the nocturnal synths of the latter. The queasy synth melody and stepping bassline of opener Underwater set the stage elegantly, the vintage sonics emulating the sounds of 80’s pop. However, at the 1:06 mark, Maine switches to an auto-tuned vocal filter, and builds to a bass drop that sounds decidedly modern. The song is indicative of Pool’s lack of concern for genre boundaries, and Maine manages to explore several. The second track – Braid – summons the ghosts of Balearic house, with its pulsating bass and 2-step rhythm, but twists itself to fit Maine’s melancholy goals.
Lead single Be Apart draws from the funkier end of synth pop, with some of the most physical sounding synth work since Caribou’s Swim. The hook of the track is built around a clever bit of wordplay in the chorus – “I wanna be apart / I wanna be a part” – as Maine ponders whether or not he wants to explore the city. He paints it as a place both menacing and inviting – “it’s got me so awake / the darkness hanging”. The dichotomy between excitement and fear is the crux of Pool, and that’s what makes it such an effective summer album: not the hazy sounds, but the mixture of the romantic and the real.
Maine’s voice was always Porches best asset, although on Pool the production has stepped up to meet it. It’s an imprecise instrument, and he often strains for falsetto notes beyond his range, but it lends him a sincerity that grounds the album. When the instrumetations veers of into its haziest and most abstract tangents, Maine’s vocals keep the songs rooted in reality. Even so, Pool leaves the impression of drifting through vague memories, and the frequent backing vocals from Maine’s musical and romantic partner Frankie Cosmos, only further the albums ethereal quality.
Pool is a huge step forward for Porches, fully realising the potential of Maine’s previous releases. It draws from a wide range of influences, but remains strikingly clear in its vision. At times brooding and dark, and at times opaque and beautiful, Pool is the album that sees Porches truly arrive, and suggests huge potential for their future.