Aaron Maine’s second album as Porches, Pool, was so perfectly-titled, it could’ve warranted a permanent band name change. After the more ramshackle Slow Dance in the Cosmos, Maine injected his new album with a liquid lushness. At its best, it conveyed the feeling of submerging oneself in artifice, be it water purified through chlorine or Maine trying to find redemption through distractions (like the titular escape of ‘Car’). It was a good album who’s main weakness was Maine’s tendency to tread water in the shallow end rather than dive deep.

On his third album (and second for Domino), The House, Maine has settled into his sound well. Porches obviously aren’t the only synthpop act around, but they’re one of the few who couldn’t easily be mistaken for another. There’s the clean sound that comes from a major label, Grammy-baiting album. Then, there’s the clean sound that’s sterilized to the point of having an aesthetic that’s practically gritty through how ‘perfect’ it is. With production this pristine, it’s difficult to imagine seeing Porches play in any venue without an impossibly-polished floor.

Maine’s voice also helps Porches stand out. He lacks the dramatic flair of Mike Hadreas or the ability to turn one sentence into an absolute gutpunch, á la Devon Welsh. Yet, his deadpan tone manages to pull off the balancing act of appearing he does and doesn’t care all at once. While much of The House is directed towards another person, it’s a very isolated album. When Maine refers to someone as “you,” it feels less like he’s addressing them directly and more like he’s rehearsing what he should say or should’ve said. One of Maine’s first assertions (on opener ‘Leave the House’), contrasts the glistening production: “I don’t want it to be clean/I just want you to be on my team.” You can sense him loving someone to the point that he’s fighting against his urges towards perfectionism. (Sandy) Alex G’s backup vocals act like an angel on his shoulder.

The House works best as a concept album in which Maine is floating in a pool (naturally), attempting to relax, but stymied by intrusive thoughts about what an asshole he is. On the most hip hop-sounding Porches song yet, ‘By My Side,’ he admits to being at fault for strife in his relationship. He doesn’t get into the specifics, though. He also inverts the title of one of 2017’s most acclaimed films as he sings, “I will call you by your name if you call me by mine,” furthering his fear, common for perfectionists, of losing his identity in the other person. The situation he describes is too vague, but you can sense the gears of frustration turning in his head as he tries to force himself into calmness.

Thematically, The House is positively saturated, and goes into waters beyond the familiar. On the brief but lovely ‘Country,’ Maine (backed up by Dev Hynes) recalls seeing his lover in a lake and offers perhaps his most intimate description yet: “Watch the water drift from my mouth to yours. I like how you take a sip.” By comparison, Maine’s first-person account of diving into a cold lake on the energetic, ‘Goodbye’ falls flat. A more omniscient perspective can help with realizing his concepts. It still works better than the immediate follow-up, interlude ‘Swimmer’ (one of three, including ‘Understanding,’ a showcase for his father’s lyrics and tender crooning), which is not only redundant to point of self-parody (sample: “It lets me escape/I go swimming deep into the bay.”), it also features a guitar melody that wouldn’t be out of place as the introduction to a Nickelback song.

Maine shows he can pull off bouncier vibes on ‘Find Me,’ an effective venture into quasi-chiptune. He’s typically the consummate Serious Performer, and it’s fun to see him cut loose for a bit. When The House falls short, it’s not because of Maine being serious. It’s because you can only sense his pain, rather than feel it. But as the album winds down, he seems to have a better sense of how to get up close and personal. ‘Ono,’ (which is also a bit damp, thanks to its wet dreams reference), features a chorus delivered as a world-weary sigh to end all world-weary sighs. ‘Anything U Want,’ the regret-tinged closer, features something of a novelty for the oft-vague Maine: proper nouns: “Julie on the bed as the warm light falls, heavy on her skin/Ricky on the field with some makeup on, heavy on his eyelids.” He sounds choked up as he sings the refrain “I love you” and it sounds like he might be finally letting his emotional guard down.

By the time an artist reaches their third album, they’re running out of opportunities to be called “promising.” At this point, their potential should be more or less realized. The House has moments where it seems like Maine might have said everything he’s capable of saying with Porches. However, there are enough positives, particularly around the end, to feel like he’s not bled his creativity dry. If he’s going to keep Porches thriving, he might need to step outside his comfort zone - and pool - a bit more.