Porches & Girlpool
Early on his third record as Porches, The House, Aaron Maine outlines his rifting desires: “I don’t wanna leave you out/I just wanna leave the house.” Though the debate is seemingly simple (the classic “should I stay or should I go” scenario), at the crux of the sentiment is an urgent need to exit the comfort of domesticity and be one’s own person. The House is driven by this urge to step back and reconcile with oneself. Whether examining identity through a relationship, nostalgia, or isolation, the key to unlocking The House is the conscious act of renewal.
Unlike 2013’s rollicking indie rock crusher Slow Dance in the Cosmos or the lush synth-pop of 2016’s Pool, Porches’ third record is a conscious effort in minimalism and honesty. “While making Pool I learned how valuable the spirit of the demos are,” says Aaron, “so for The House I made a point to try and capture the song the day it was conceived.” He recorded only for “keeps” and initially limited himself to a 4-track as a means of committing individual songs. Though he would later rework the arrangements, Aaron focused intensely on recording the essence of the song, embracing the imperfections of some of the performances in hopes of putting forward something more honest. Though Aaron largely composes on his own, The House features contributions by Alexander Giannascoli (Alex G), Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Maya Laner (True Blue, Porches), Kaya Wilkins (Okay Kaya), Bryndon Cook (Starchild & the New Romantic), Cameron Wisch (Cende, Porches), Jason Arce, Bea1991, and his own father, Peter Maine. As with Pool, Aaron brought his recorded work to Chris Coady (Beach House, Slowdive, TV on the Radio), who then mixed The House at his Sunset Sound studio.
In accordance with the raw recording process, The House finds Aaron saying less with more intention. Because of his urgent desire to document immediate sensations, The House’s fourteen tracks offer a series of diaristic vignettes. There are moments of emerging from fear of ego death (“Leave the House,” “By My Side,” “Now The Water”), escaping the corporeal (“Now The Water,” “Swimmer”), the terrifying thrill of young love (“Country,” “W Longing”), and parting with the past (“Wobble,” “Goodbye”). As on Pool, images of water suggesting salvation at every turn: “Think I’ll go/Somewhere else/Where I can sink/Into myself” (“Find Me”); “can you make it right/can you do no harm/break the water with your arms” (“Country”); “This cold pool/Glowing against the night/Is the only thing/I believe is right” (“ W Longing”).
While these themes possibly paint The House in a dark light, the record is marked by an excitement at the prospect of self-discovery, and commitment to the process of getting there. “Find Me,” for example, touches on anxiety and isolation, but is put forward as an icy dance track where one might be able to celebrate those two emotions. The same paradox can be found in “Goodbye,” a piano track Aaron wrote after taking a solo trip to his hometown. Though it is initially a melancholy reflection of youth’s ephemerality, the chorus’ image of slipping into a lake invokes the beauty that sometimes accompanies the act of letting go. “Now The Water” also features one of The House’s most affecting images: “Red clutch farm kid not making a sound.” As Aaron explains it, the image is of a rural adolescent who sneaks out into a field at night. Only then, lying there alone while the world sleeps, do they truly feel in touch with themselves. This idea of being fully oneself is the ultimate state of liberation, and with The House, Aaron Maine creeps closer to realizing that goal for himself.
Life has been a whirl for Girlpool since the release of their acclaimed 2015 debut Before the World Was Big. Shortly before the record came out, Harmony Tividad (she/her) and Cleo Tucker (they/them) relocated from their hometown of Los Angeles all the way across the country to Philadelphia, where they quickly became embedded in the local D.I.Y. scene. “Before BTWWB, I was just out of high school, living in my old neighborhood,” recalls Cleo Tucker. “Then we started touring in a way we’d never done before. I really started to experience the duality that was beginning to exist in my life: tour/not on tour.” After a chaotic and informative year spent floating around the East Coast, both bandmates moved home to California at the start of 2017. Girlpool have been seemingly everywhere at once, exploring all the world’s offerings with open minds and notebooks. All the lessons they learned, about the earth and about themselves, are gathered together in their sophomore record and ANTI- debut, Powerplant.
Over 10 days in August 2016, Girlpool holed up at Los Angeles’ Comp-ny studios to record and mix Powerplant with Drew Fischer. For the first time, Harmony and Cleo were joined by a third performer, drummer Miles Wintner, a friend who easily meshed with the tightknit duo. The decision to add percussion came as a natural decision for Harmony and Cleo; “Cleo and I just were driving down the New Jersey turnpike when she mentioned that it might be exciting to expand our sound for the new songs,” says Harmony. “The songs we were writing had the potential of getting really climactic,” adds Cleo. “I think percussion adds a new part of the musical dynamic that we want to explore.“Girlpool’s eagerness to evolve should come as no surprise; in the same way that there were little traces of their self-titled EP on BTWWB, on Powerplant, the pair shed their old skins with more eagerness than before. “In some ways I feel more courageous and mature and in other ways I feel smaller and softer, sometimes even more fragile than ever,” says Harmony, adding that while the inner self is always changing, ultimately the end is a closer self-truth.
The 12 tracks that compose Powerplant grow and burn with greater fire than the duo have possessed heretofore. Both bandmates were heavily inspired by Elliott Smith, the Cranberries, the Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno, Arthur Russell, and Graham Nash; the influence of each appear in the record’s deliberate and intricate guitar work (“Fast Dust,” “She Goes By”) as well as its embrace of dissonant noise (“Corner Store,” “Soup”). Though they were living apart for most of the writing process, the pair still managed to write all but four songs together, another testament to their dedication to Girlpool and each other. Now 21 and 20, Harmony and Cleo confront projections, despondency, apathy, romanticization, love, and heartbreak with a more devastating emotional pragmatism than before. “Looking pretty at the wall is my mistake in love installed/While the moth doesn’t talk but in the dress the holes you saw,” they sing on opener “123,” perfectly refracting the truth. More humorous (but still heavily symbolic) lines are delivered with equal poignancy, like Harmony’s disclaimer on “It Gets More Blue,” “The nihilist tells you that nothing is true/I said I faked global warming just to get close to you.”
Both bandmates believe that radical vulnerability and honesty are essential to discovering oneself. “I see vulnerable softness as a place where the honest self can come forward,” Cleo explains, saying that on Powerplant, Girlpool aimed for sincere expression. “As a society I feel that we perceive softness and vulnerability as traits that are ‘weak,’ and people emotionally disconnect themselves in order to avoid going through everything they feel,” Harmony adds. “I think what is most important right now is empathy, and in order to have empathy we must first feel what we, ourselves, feel.” Perhaps what really makes Powerplant a home run is that Girlpool understand exactly how to use their incisive lyrics, soft textures, hushed harmonies, and soaring hooks for maximum emotional impact. In these moments, when Harmony and Cleo’s voices join together to deliver transcendent transmissions straight from their hearts, Girlpool become a league of their own.