Porches has mastered the sound of the zealous introvert. At their core, each of his songs address the specific ambivalence of this personality. He walks by the party and wants to dance, but needs to be alone. He craves solitude, but still wants to give more of himself, still wants to love. There’s a pull to the outer world and a safety in hiding from it.
It’s fitting, then, that the home is the soul of his third and newest album, and also its namesake. On The House, questions that seem simple on the surface — whether to stay in or go out, whether to get up or go back to bed — become pivotal. What he decides in those moments represents who he is as a whole. Each decision is the outfit he has chosen to wear. That is, if he decides to dress up and go out at all.
Take his shift between the first two tracks. On “Leave the House,” he sings over a paced, spacious synth line: “I just wanna leave the house … / Maybe take a walk around.” He needs air and leads us to believe he’s going to set out to find it. It’s an uncharacteristic moment of willful exposure for an artist who produced his entire last album in a single bedroom in New York City. But immediately he contradicts himself. “I think I’ll stay inside,” he tells us in the first line of the absolutely gorgeous second track, “Find Me.” He can’t escape the fear of everything outside. It’s all about moving inwardly again, right when we thought he was moving outwardly. The song, ironically, is also the most generous and danceable on the whole album, complete with a huge, bouncy beat and an exuberant trumpet section.
Porches has increasingly defined his project by playing with this mental back and forth. No conversation about Porches is complete without ample mention of ambivalence — this is certainly not music for hardliners. Tellingly, so many of Porches’s verses land on a final line that begins with “but.”
What makes The House so much bigger, and so much more powerful, I daresay, than the already wonderful Pool, is that Porches seems to celebrate and understand his ambivalence better than ever before. There’s something beautiful in how assured he is in being unsure. He lets himself sink inwardly and lets himself question that desire to do so. He gives room for both: the feeling, and the reaction to it.
The difficulty of such a personality is how to handle the external — that’s a broad word, but it covers a lot of important bases here. The biggest external for Porches is other people. Navigating love as someone who needs separation as much as the air they breathe becomes a constant question: How do you express it? How do you give it in a way that your partner wants, when so much of yourself rests within rather than without?
Porches isn’t really sure. The conundrum is too large for a solitary introvert to solve. Instead, he simply narrates his own experience, explaining how he’s trying to figure it out. The result is some of his clearest and most emotionally resonant writing to date.
Nowhere is this better showcased than “By My Side,” one of the most arresting moments on an album that is filled with so many that stop you in wild appreciation. “It’s my fault / This I know / It’s just hard to swallow,” he sings, speaking to a hurt lover. But this track grows far deeper than just an apology. As much as Porches loves to be inside the house, he learns about himself by those on the outside, and when he says to her, “I will call you by your name / If you call me by mine,” you nearly want to cry, because the weight of that moment, the drawing of lines in the sand, is so instantly understood in the context of his own internal fight. This once internal question of whether to stay inside or go out is reflected onto this relationship, and then reflected back onto himself, altering his self-perception. The relationship is a mirror, but the thing is, he doesn’t want it to be. That he goes on to say most of the time he has no idea who he even sees in that mirror is the crux of the problem. It’s the essence of this album. With so many conflicting thoughts and desires, how do we begin to know ourselves? How do we decide to exist?
As much as this sounds like a narrative, The House is better described as a mood. Continuing the trend he began on Pool, he creates a lot of the emotional work through the production. As sonic arrangements, these songs are well polished, absurdly addictive. The progression and crescendo of “Ono” does as much, if not more, work to translate feeling as the lyrical clarity of “By My Side.”
He works with a similar synth palette as Pool to create this effect, but The House sounds more alive, conjuring expansive worlds, whereas Pool contained itself within a singular bedroom. Each song is its own room, fully furnished, and while every room is consistent aesthetically with the last, they all offer the listener a new discovery, a new chaise lounge to dance on and a new framed photo to gawk at. Walking through The House is supremely enjoyable.
We’re guided out of the home on the final track, “Anything U Want.” He paints a scene with two characters: “Julie on the bed as warm as night falls,” and “Ricky on the field with some makeup on.” It’s a concise pastoral, a scene largely about love, but about the home too, and the country and the things we want to be for the people who love us back. Introversion is so easily misunderstood as selfishness, but here, Porches is generous to the point of giving himself entirely. He offers his world, singing “Tell me everything you want to hear / I want you to hear it / Tell me anything you want to feel / I want you near it.” The album, in retrospect, was always about others. Even from afar they guide Porches through his ambivalence, cutting false paradox and landing at an answer that’s perhaps even more complicated than the question we started with, of how to live and love as an introvert. Which is that somehow, we learn to love alone.