Something has apparently changed inside Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius. The Seattle-based artist didn’t exactly have an easy background, what lead to reflect that discomfort in his two first albums – he received death threats at school and had to leave Settle after being hospitalised following a homophobic attack. Not to mention a dysfunctional family, alcoholism and drug addiction. It comes as no surprise that his first works were quite dark and certainly not a piece of cheerful pop. Something evolved with his third album, ‘Too Bright’, and the anthemic song ‘Queen’ was a milestone for Hadreas, both personally and as an artist. It is a must-listen, trust me. In ‘No Shape’, Perfume Genius seems to have found the right path, and everything now is going alright. It feels more optimistic and somehow dreamy, but it does not lose any of the Hadreas’ widely acclaimed characteristics.
The brilliant opener ‘Otherside’ sounds pretty familiar to what Hadreas has got us used to – sorrowful vocals over a delicate piano. Only one minute in, a brilliant electronic explosion bursts, and you know something is different in this album. It is somehow euphoric and ambitious, it does not sound like Perfume Genius but shows the broader boundaries of this young artist. “Even in hiding, find it” sings Hadreas as he was announcing he finally found himself. Not having enough time to
As a listener, you don’t even have time to realise what is going on, when the majestic ‘Slip Away’ takes in. It is fierce and strong, with a flawless pop chorus that introduces a pounding-drums layer that will blow your mind. It is the highlight of the album, as ‘Queen’ did on ‘Too Bright’, ‘Slip Away’ elevates and reassures the Seattle-based singer, proving his weird and unique talent is blooming.
“Take my hand, take my everything,
if we only got a moment
give it to me now”
‘Go Ahead’, the second single of the album, blends electronic sounds with a sort of soft R&B melody over lyrics moving between confidence and fear showing once again the shift in the artist: “Now watch me, watch me walk on by […] go ahead and try.” It is with ‘Wreath’ the moment Perfume Genius feels powerful and wonderful again. It is a richly layered pop piece, with a base of electronic noise that sounds like an homage to the unrepeatable Kate Bush – “Running up that hill, I’m gonna peel off ever weight.” There is also room for down-tempo pieces. ‘Every Night’ and the heartbreaking ‘Braid’ play with closeness and intimacy and they sound as warm as they sound sad.
make my name
lost it’s meaning
and every harm is
loving washed away”
The frenetic violin strings on ‘Choir’ – quite an interesting piece I have to say – gives way to the stunning ‘Die 4 You’. Its trip-hop base – don’t panic, I won’t mention Massive Attack – creates a haunting soundscape where Hadreas whispers about letting himself being smoother by his partner, as a way of showing total commitment: “each and every breath I spend, you are collecting, limit every second left, until I’m off balance”. It is erotic and deeply minimalist and it will surely capture you since its first electric piano chords.
Perfume Genius‘s ambition of sailing across different genres doesn’t stop here. Coming to an end, ‘No Shape’ turns into a gloomy jazzy piece with ‘Run Me Through’, where his aching voice seems to sing about self-annihilation and dedication towards your love one when saying “wear me like a leather, just or you.” It all comes to an end with the heart-wrenching ‘Alan’, dedicated to his long-time partner. It’s a devotional piece that celebrates his new state of mind and his love to Alan – “You need me, rest easy, I’m here, how weird”. What a magnificent and moving closing act for the album. A piece that makes us all want to be Alan – or me at least.
“Did you notice
we sleep through the night
did you notice babe
everything is alright”
‘No Shape’ is ambitious, audacious and astonishing and will probably be in the run to be one of the albums of the year. It moves across wide boundaries, yet keeping a surprising coherence. It is a clear change for Hadreas, a sort of thank you for being loved, as if he was not expecting that – and to be honest, it is the best that we can all hope for. It is inventive and experimental and shows how Perfume Genius is growing and expanding his sound. Something might have changed inside this guys, but – trust me – after going through this LP, something might change in you as well.
Matador Records | 2017
Tracklist & Stream