There’s a euphoria that comes with rejection. Shutting a door. Cancelling plans. Ignoring notifications. Small refusals yield brief highs. Breaking with the past. Outrunning the long shadow of expectation and station. Seeking flux over permanence. With these, you can induce a euphoria that can sustain and inspire whole bodies of work. It’s a shade or inflection that colors the material, no matter how dark or disconsolate, a euphoria that can be understood at the lowest of volumes. Across the 14 tracks that make up The House, Aaron Maine’s latest contribution as Porches, one encounters the latter type of euphoria like a melancholic breeze. Gentle enough to be misunderstood, misapprehended, even ignored outright, but always on the skin.
Maine’s catalogue of rejections run the length of the record, inform his newly-embraced electronic productions, and color the visuals surrounding The House’s first two singles “Find Me” and “Country.” The most visceral of these being a rejection of a homogeneous aesthetic. The album is farrago of irresolution (vocally and lyrically), mechanical determination (in the gauzy hardware drums), vows of fidelity to the city it was produced in (New York City’s Chinatown, specifically) and promises of certain retreat to a serenity beyond its boundaries.
I spoke with Maine in the days before the album’s release about the right of refusal that informs both The House and the larger cultural moment. In a way, it was a foreshadowing of various rejections soon to be lobbed his way. Specifically, a dismissive Pitchfork review, characterizations of the album as “flawed,” “inaccessible,” “a dead horse,” accusations of Maine “queer posturing” that turned out to be a lazy mischaracterization, and the grueling promise of a year soon to be spent on the road. All what he’d refer to as the “drama and shit” that can feel endemic to city life. The escape route north is plotted out. His teenage home of Greenwich, New York or his father’s home further upstate in Saratoga are beacons on his periphery. “I realize that I could literally work at a grocery store and drop it all and rent a room anywhere. And that’s a really comforting thought sometimes when it feels overwhelming.”
The record was recorded primarily in Maine’s Chinatown apartment, where he worked on his own in hours-long bursts over the span of several months in 2016. The sessions themselves were a continual struggle to create a silent remove from the city’s relentless clatter, to buffer the human dramas playing out streets below. “You could solve a fucking murder mystery with the stuff you hear coming through the windows,” he tells me, laughing softly. The unperturbed intimacy of The House’s quieter moments was the result of a simple innovation: a bath towel draped over Maine’s head and the microphone.
In Maine’s attempts to describe the influences behind the album, hesitation turned his expositions clammy. It’s typically a filler query in any interview, easy copy for the subject to churn out. But, Maine’s latest collection begged the obvious, a consciousness has been expanded—The House serves as a literal statement of proof. There’s the inescapable influence of the city’s clubs (inescapable to anyone intent on finding something close to a remaining subculture in this city), the flirtation with the countryside and its miasma of simplicity, the passing shadows of youth and adulthood, the easy collaborations with friends around the corner, the collaboration with the living, intrusive city itself, the scenes and cliques and creatives and normals and the friends for life, for a night, the brand, the identity one has bound oneself to or peeled oneself from. “I just wish I could do everything,” Maine says. Adjusting a moment later, “You can’t really do everything, but I can try and absorb the elements that I find exciting.”
Some would refer to this as the “tension” lurking beneath his creative process. It wouldn’t be an inaccurate assessment. Yet, the term itself hints at something finite, a state that cannot be sustained. A breakthrough will come. The tension, as they say, dissolves. The subject snaps their fingers for emphasis. It’s neat, this view of the creative process. But one hears, and sees, something different in the music being made in this time, in Maine’s visuals, throughout the tracks on The House. It’s the desire to do everything despite the leaden certainty that everything isn’t really something one can envelope in a single work, or, in most cases, a lifetime’s worth of work. This tension, as it were, is the defining feature of the generation that owns this moment. Call it a quirk, a bug, fantasy, privilege, selfishness, immaturity, freedom, creative mobility, or, an inheritance. But be certain, above all, that it’s a mandate. Any creative work that fails to inhabit both the familiar and foreign to be pretentious in its ambitions is one that chooses to be removed from the vitality/reality of a moment. Keep it dumb or make it soft? “I don’t know,” replies Maine. “It’s both.”