Perfume Genius

(Copyright © 2018 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Learning (2010), 6.5/10
Put Your Back N 2 It (2012), 7/10
Too Bright (2014), 7/10
No Shape (2017), 5/10
Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (2020), 6/10
Ugly Season (2022), 6.5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Perfume Genius, the project of Seattle's pianist and singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, surfaced with the lo-fi piano-based folk tales of the mini-album Learning (2010), especially Mr Petersen.

Hadreas suddenly endorsed lush arrangements on Put Your Back N 2 It (Matador, 2012) for songs such as the otherworldly dilated AWOL Marine (a song crushed under the sense of imminent apocalypse that it emanates) but his forte remained the way he told his brutal, stirring chronicles of ordinary aberration such as the spare, slow, delicate 17, the harrowing Hood, the utterly dejected, crying All Waters. It was actually the absence of music that enhanced the drama. The very fact of not belonging to any genre or style (just a voice and a piano mourning, muttering, agonizing) coined a new genre.

Mike Hadreas went pop in rather oblique way on Too Bright (Matador, 2014), co-produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead. The songs are heavily arranged and sung in an almost operatic (if pained) tone. David Bowie's specter stands behind the martial anthem Queen. Luckily, the constructs are often way more intriguing. It takes forever for the suspenseful Fool to rise up, but the ending is his most solemn melody yet. No Good is a mournful piano elegy amid anthemic strings until a fit of violent strumming turns it into a transcendental hymn. My Body is a psychological shocker: a pulsating psychodrama of foreboding bass lines a` la Suicide derailed by ghostly voices. Suicide's neurosis is plagiarized even more openly in the epileptic Grid that weds it to screaming children voices and panzer-grade boogie propulsion. Longpig moves further in the rhythmic direction unleashing a vortex of manic electronic beats. On the other hand, the delicate chamber lied Don't Let Them In the whispered dirge I'm a Mother (that seems to be taken from Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack Blue Velvet) and the nostalgically waltzing closer All Along seem to belong to another album, the album of a vulnerable singer-songwriter. Hadreas reinvented himself as a stylistic wizard.

No Shape (Matador, 2017), produced by Blake Mills, adopted a louder and dumber pop sound, best (worst?) displayed in the bombastic single Slip Away. The album is dominated by aggressive and over-produced power-pop numbers such as Wreath. Hadreas sinks to a new low with the languid, moronic, neosoul ballads Go Ahead and Die 4 You (the latter rescued by trip-hop beats and slow, morbid, Sade-esque sensuality). The one melody that soars, Just Like Love, evokes the girl-groups of the 1960s, and would have been a very minor song for any of those (very minor) groups.

The ballet The Sun Still Burns Here (2019) was a collaboration with choreographer Kate Wallich.

In 2019 he released two singles: the nine-minute Eye In The Wall, possibly his masterpiece, weaving a quasi-liturgical chant around frenzied syncopated drumming and reverbed organ effects, with a jazz-psychedelic coda worthy of Peter Green's End of the Game that hides a fractured anthem; and Pop Song, a more conventional dance ballad taken from the ballet The Sun Still Burns Here.

His chamber pop exhibited a split personality on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (2020), where extravagant arrangements coexisted with subdued songs. The liturgical fervor over a neoclassical waltz of Whole Life coexists with the Pet Shop Boys-esque synth-pop romantic melodrama Your Body Changes Everything. Some songs are trivial dance ditties like On the Floor and some are pure distilled atmosphere like Leave. The spare otherworldly chant Just a Touch is the other side of the pulsing feverish neurotic Nothing at All. The sleepy lullabye One More Try, which sounds like the Everly Brothers produced by Burt Bacharach, meets the distorted guitar and pounding piano of Some Dream, which sounds like a lost Warren Zevon rant (before turning into an anguished lament). The melodic peak is the martial and catchy Jason (with baroque harpsichord and soaring strings). Towering over everything else is the shoegazing single Describe, propelled by an anthemic Neil Young-ian hard-rock guitar riff coupled with folkish jamming and an angelic melody. Alas, there is also quite a bit of filler.

Largely abandoning the pop song, Ugly Season (2022) was a major detour in his artistic trajectory, at times a pretentious and self-indulgent one, at other times his most creative step yet. The best feature of these pieces is their elegant mutations. Photograph piles up a swamp beat, a gnawing distortion, a funereal elegy, instrumental cacophony and an ecstatic female choir. The morbid organ drones of Just a Room evoke Nico's post-liturgical music before imploding in a barely audible chamber sonata and resurrecting as a tidal wave of organ chords. The seven-minute Hellbent is basically a David Bowie-esque ballad over a loud guitar distortion and throbbing electronic rhythm a` la Pink Floyd's Welcome to the Machine, with a coda of noisy and chaotic jamming (alas, a rather amateurish coda). His voice is a mixed blessing, or, actually, no blessing at all. The sensual moaning in Pop Song hardly helps what is already a trite dance-pop shuffle. On the other hand his wavering lament in Teeth, a song that bridges neoclassical and gamelan elements, helps to build a suspenseful atmosphere and to resolve it into a moribund agony. If the Middle-eastern falsetto chant is harmless within the slowly decomposing, oneiric and exotic, nine-minute acid house jam Eye in the Wall, a more annoying "angelic" falsetto decorates the slow, trance-y, new-age music of the seven-minute Herem. The Scherzo, the reggae novelty Ugly Season and the ambient music for piano and synth of Cenote can be viewed, at best, as intermezzos.

(Copyright © 2018 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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