Weirdly paradoxical as the description may be, “bummer pop” is the best way to characterize the breezy half hour’s worth of music in Porches.’ new album.
Slow Dance in the Cosmos by Porches. Exploding in Sound Records.
Porches. has been one of the most amusing acts to come out of the Brooklyn, NY music scene over the past couple of years. The quintet, fronted by prolific multi-instrumentalist Aaron Maine, makes what is generally considered to be “sad rock,” but a look at the band’s eccentric, typically juvenile Facebook page complicates this description. Song titles such as “Headsgiving” and “Franklin the Flirt” contribute to the band’s calculated identity crisis.
Playing around with the bewildering contradictions in its persona, the band has slotted its music into a variety of absurd, made-up genres, such as “sad spread,” “porno-gospel,” and “bootyclapping.” Porches. has finally settled on “bummer pop” for its debut LP, Slow Dance in the Cosmos.
Weirdly paradoxical as the description may be, “bummer pop” is the best way to characterize the breezy half hour’s worth of music in the group’s new album. Maine’s confident, wry loner lyricism provides the through-line for the disc’s pleasing odyssey of eclectic and poppy sounds.
Slow Dance opens with the unexpectedly heartfelt “Headsgiving.” The instrumentation is that of a moody rocker and, despite the brazenly sophomoric lyrics, Maine’s vocal inflection manages to come across as genuinely glum rather than glib, a mix of the fun and funereal that is undeniably cool. What’s more, he strikes this tricky balance on every one of the record’s 10 songs.
The following track, “Jesus Universe,” is easily one of the disc’s highlights because of its progressive structure, glistening electronic textures, and an especially moving vocal performance. The piece is slightly marred by its decidedly lo-fi recording—particularly the vocal mix, which briefly gives off a harsh resonance. Thankfully, this track is the only point on the LP that is negatively impacted by the lo-fi production, and it’s easy to overlook in this case because of the song’s many merits.
Next is the incredibly catchy single “Skinny Trees,” an electronically-tinged stoner rock groove that barely breaches the two-minute-mark. The song was posted on the band’s Facebook page with a status that reads, “this 1s a RCOK song. .” That pretty well sums it up.
After the explosive “Skinny Trees” comes “Xanny Bar,” which is by far Slow Dance’s sparsest moment. The song’s arrangement is bare, almost folksy, driven by a lonesome sounding acoustic guitar and Maine’s distinctive, melancholic croon. An ethereal synth texture comes and goes, accenting the track’s raw, affecting power.
“Intimate” may be the shortest track on the album, clocking in at two minutes, but it manages to be poignant despite its length. The second verse is sung by bassist Greta Kline, daughter of actors Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline. The duet, which is set against a simple, sauntering beat, offers a comfortable vocal, which is not surprising given that Maine also plays in Kline’s band, Frankie Cosmos.
This track gives way to the disc’s lead single, “Franklin the Flirt,” which opens inauspiciously with a dank hip hop beat, but that riff is quickly complicated by an acoustic guitar part and a smooth bass line. The impassioned chorus, which accents the catchy melody, distinguishes this song as the LP’s earworm tune.
“Fog Dog” is another duet between Maine and Kline and could be seen as the upbeat complement to the decidedly downbeat “Intimate.” The track opens with Maine proclaiming, “Today I was good at the city,” a sentiment that stands in direct contrast to his desperate admission “I’m no good at the city” in the earlier tune. After a brief and subdued drone of an intro, his bandmates quickly pick up the pace, crafting a bold, triumphant, and rollicking rock arrangement. But the elation doesn’t last for long—eventually the instruments purposefully teeter out of sync and bring the song to a messy close.
Fittingly, the next two tracks are delightfully unhinged, but in very different ways. The poky “After Glow” is propelled by a fat bass groove and gleaming synth bleeps, the latter finally overwhelming the song, bringing it to an exhilaratingly blaring conclusion. Then there’s the brisk “Permanent Loan,” which explodes into multiple barrages of frantic guitar, wailing electronics, and crashing drums. Maine’s cathartic howling during these high decibel parts is downright dazzling.
“The Cosmos” brings the album to a dynamic, celebratory close—not the expected conclusion for a “sad rock” act. The piece is a pristinely, lively rock composition, though it finishes up with an admittedly sour guitar tone. But the tune’s sweet/sour dichotomy suggests the secret to Slow Dance in the Cosmos‘s appeal. Yes, Maine’s mopey lyrics and droopy inflection can be a downer, for sure. But Porches.’s lush, progressive, and breezy arrangements make the experience of becoming depressed pretty irresistible—“bummer pop,” indeed.