Porches

When Aaron Maine looks back on his early work as Porches, he’s often struck by how sad and angry it can feel. “That music turned out a lot more pessimistic than I intended it to be,” he says. “But when I took a sad moment and turned it into a song, it was a cathartic, positive, and clean process. For me, those moments were victories. Feeling better,” he adds, “was making a song.”

As it turns out, Maine is very good at making songs. Over the last few years, the 27-year-old singer and songwriter has released a wealth of material on a number of influential labels, including singles on Terrible (2014’s Prism), Birdtapes (2013’s Townie Blunt Guts) and Seagreen (2014’s Leather), as well as a beautiful yet crushing full-length on Exploding in Sound (2013’s Slow Dance In The Cosmos). And in the process he’s become a magnetic live presence while playing out in New York, gaining the notice of discerning listeners and labels alike. February 2016 marks the much-anticipated release of Pool, his debut full-length for Domino and a major step forward for him—as an evolving singer/songwriter, and as a nascent producer. Written and recorded almost entirely in the Manhattan apartment he shares with his partner and frequent collaborator, Greta Kline a.k.a Frankie Cosmos, Pool is an elegantly drawn set of gorgeous, synth-driven pop songs that were 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.”

The album was recorded twice - the first time a crash-course in learning Logic and navigating his first synthesizers and drum machines, the second time starting from scratch with a better hold on the recording process - and eventually mixed by Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, Beach House, Tobias Jesso Jr.) in his Los Angeles studio. Sometime in 2014, Maine, a long-devoted Neil Young fan, began listening to house and electronic music and contemporary pop music more closely and frequently than he ever had before. What followed is a hypnotic and expansive re-articulation of the melancholy we’ve come to expect, from the pristine harmonies of “Hour” to the undulating R&B of “Underwater” to the Auto-tuned majesty of the title track. “I feel like the lyrics are like mood boards or collages of my experience in New York,” he says. “Rather than focusing on a particular incident or story like I have in the past, I wanted to be more abstract, in order to paint a very specific mood: ideas of lightness and darkness, water, air, movement, acceptance and security.” The result is a sophisticated and fully immersive listening experience, with Maine’s voice at its center. “I’m getting a little older and a little more in touch with my emotions,” he adds. “I just wanted to make this album more positive and to make sure that my message was coming across clearly this time. I never wanted my music to bum people out. I feel like I naturally gravitate towards the more melancholic experiences in life, but this time around I tried to dissect those moments and somehow extract what was so beautiful about them to me. With this record, I want people to feel something different, something subtler. I want people to feel dark, beautiful and strong when they hear this new record. I want people to put it on at a party and go wild, to put it on just walking or driving around. I want them to fall in love to this record.”

Close It Quietly is a continual reframing of the known. It’s like giving yourself a haircut or rearranging your room. You know your hair. You know your room. Here’s the same hair, the same room, seen again as something new. Close It Quietly takes the trademark Frankie Cosmos micro-universe and upends it, spilling outwards into a swirl of referentiality that’s a marked departure from earlier releases, imagining and reimagining motifs and sounds throughout the album. FC’s fourth studio release is a manifestation of the band’s collaborative spirit: Greta Kline and longtime bandmates Lauren Martin (synth), Luke Pyenson (drums), and Alex Bailey (bass) luxuriated in studio time with Gabe Wax, who engineered and co-produced the record with the band.

Recording close to home— at Brooklyn’s Figure 8 Studios— grounded the band, and their process was enriched by working closely with Wax, whose intuition and attention to detail made the familiar unfamiliar and allowed the band to reshape their own contexts. On opener “Moonsea,” an unaccompanied Greta begins, “The world is crumbling and I don’t have much to say.” Take that as a wink and a metonym for the whole album, as her signature vocals are joined by Alex’s ascending bassline and Lauren’s eddying synths, invoking a loungey take on Broadcast or Stereolab’s space-disco experimental pop. There’s much more than “not much” to say here, and it's augmented and expanded by experimentation with synth patches, textures, and other recording nuances courtesy of Wax.

As the lineup has solidified into the most permanent expression of full-band Frankie Cosmos, the bandmates have felt more comfortable deviating from their default instruments and contributing bigger-picture ideas to continue pushing the sound forward. The synergy of its creation is clear upon listening: the multiple hands dipping and re-dipping into each song form a multifaceted whole. The band’s closeness and aesthetic consistency freed its members to take more musically-formal risks, notes Luke: "Everything will sound like Frankie Cosmos because Greta has such a distinct voice (literally and figuratively). We have so much latitude to experiment with the instrumental music, and this time around we really took advantage of that."

The album forms its own vortex of reinvention that’s embodied through both the tracks themselves and the recording and arranging processes. “A Joke” curls in on itself, in word and in deed, a series of undercuts defining negative space: “It’s just a joke I wasn’t trying to tell;” “It wasn’t really a game;” “I do not know what I am for/I wasn’t really keeping score.” Inverting technology’s human mimicry, Luke impersonates a drum machine until the song’s end. “A Joke’s” tricks scratch at something bigger, a small song embodying the laughability of attempting to neatly organize or adhere to any particular role.

“Rings of a Tree” frees itself from its original context: released earlier this year on Greta’s solo piano album Haunted Items, she didn’t initially anticipate a major deviation; then, Luke says, “Lauren and I had the same arrangement idea without talking about it. Like, ‘let’s make this song funky. Let’s channel Orange Juice.’ We texted Greta and Alex before practice and Alex came in with a new guitar part that perfectly captured what Lauren and I heard in our heads.”

“I’m just fucking glad for my bubble/despite how often it is penetrated by evil” Greta sings on “Last Season’s Textures,” taking to task the accusation that young people cloister themselves in complacency: she’s quick to point to, thank, and feel suspicious of that sphere all at once. The song explores the feeling of safety in her realm; reasonable despair re: reality (“the news is excruciating”); and a quick admission that darkness isn’t something a liberal-minded social network can block out. Kline notes how the song is “partly about misogyny and internalized misogyny--moments where I've felt betrayed by what is meant to be a safe space.”

Without losing any intimacy of prior albums, Close it Quietly is different, is outer. The album functions as a benign doppelganger, a shadow self of past releases; where other Frankie Cosmos records shine brightest looking inward, Close it Quietly refracts the self into the world, and vice versa, miraculously echoing Thoreau’s assertion that “when I reflect, I find that there is other than me.”

Reflection--and refraction--isn’t tidy. “Flowers don’t grow/in an organized way/why should I?” Greta sings on “A Joke.” Growth isn’t linear. Change happens in circles. While recording the album, Alex says, “I closed my eyes a lot.” Stand in the sun, listen to Close it Quietly, and do the same.

Allison Crutchfield

Check out this joyous news: Allison Crutchfield is now Team Merge! Crutchfield has been writing and performing fantastic songs over the years, most notably in her co-founding projects Swearin’ and P.S. Eliot. Lately she’s been part of the Waxahatchee live band and self-released the Lean In To It EP, but 2017 will see the release of her first proper full-length.

Allison had this to say about the occasion: “Signing with Merge was always sort of a fantasy milestone in my mind, like winning an Oscar or opening a bakery in New England. It was something I dreamed about a hundred times as a teenager but never thought could actually happen. I’ve been fortunate enough to really get to know the Merge family over the last year, and now that I’m a grown-up, I’m so grateful to be able to call Merge home.”

More specifics on Allison’s LP coming later this year!

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