Perfume Genius – No Shape (Matador)
Mike Hadreas is the man who calls himself Perfume Genius, but that’s not even the most audacious thing about him. He writes with candour about disease, addiction, queer identity and other topics often avoided in pop songs. On his breakthrough record, 2014’s Too Bright, the single “Queen” contained the proudly defiant chorus: “No family is safe / when I sashay.”
This time, however, he’s not just writing about pain or revenge; he’s writing about finally reaching the other side of sobriety and domesticity and true love. (“Did you notice we sleep through the night? / Did you notice, babe, everything is all right? / You need me / Rest easy / I’m here / How weird.”)
Sound boring? Not in these hands. Not in the least.
First of all, no matter what he might choose to sing about, Hadreas’s voice will send shivers up any spine; the only white North American man he could remotely be compared to would be Roy Orbison, for that unique combination of strength, fragility, intensity and emotional depth that precious few can even begin to emulate. Hadreas has that. He’s a big fan of Mary Margaret O’Hara, whom he’s covered often live, and tracks here like “Every Night” share the majesty of her best ballads.
Everything about his fourth album is incredibly intense and rendered in explosions of auditory colour, in part thanks to producer Blake Mills and engineer Shawn Everett (both were behind Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color). Perfume Genius can do glam cabaret or art-damaged R&B or stripped-down piano ballads, but there is an ever-present tension and slight discomfort beneath even the prettiest moments. He knows he can slay with just piano and voice—which is what we heard on his first two records—and he’s not interested in that anymore. Instead, the surrounding sonic world is just as, if not more, important than the songs at the core. The combination of cocksure confidence and avant-garde exploration also makes him perhaps the only person to ever reference both Bruce Springsteen and filmmaker Peter Greenaway in his bio—alongside Prince’s Black Album and Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, neither of which are unfair reference points. (May 11, 2017)
Stream: “Slip Away,” “Just Like Love,” “Every Night”