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Perfume Genius

Even though he is only in his 20s, the story to date of Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, has the peculiar twists and turns of a person who has lived several lifetimes, and seen more darkness than most. “I spent my whole life hiding from the things that happened to me, to my family and friends,” Hadreas explains now. “The entirety of all these experiences: abuse, addiction, suicide, all that cool stuff, I couldn’t bear to look at it.”

Now, as Perfume Genius, Hadreas is not only turning an unforgiving mirror on those demons, but making utterly heartbreaking music out of ...read more

Even though he is only in his 20s, the story to date of Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, has the peculiar twists and turns of a person who has lived several lifetimes, and seen more darkness than most. “I spent my whole life hiding from the things that happened to me, to my family and friends,” Hadreas explains now. “The entirety of all these experiences: abuse, addiction, suicide, all that cool stuff, I couldn’t bear to look at it.”

Now, as Perfume Genius, Hadreas is not only turning an unforgiving mirror on those demons, but making utterly heartbreaking music out of them. How this actually came to pass however, is far from conventional. For a number of years Hadreas admits that he was headed down the path of self-oblivion; as he recalls, “I was running around doing drugs and being fucking insane and getting into some dangerous business.”

At his lowest ebb, and with his lifestyle threatening to overwhelm him entirely, Hadreas made a clean break and moved back into his mother’s house in Washington state. It is in this suburban setting that his self-imposed isolation seemed to tap into a wellspring of dormant creativity. “I have always played the piano but was really embarrassed of my voice, so I never sang. But a few years ago, after spending a long time alone, I suddenly had something to say and my voice didn’t matter.”

The watershed moment came one day when he sat down and wrote 'Learning', which was to be his first song. Hadreas remembers it with piercing clarity. “I wrote it and spent at least a month after that constantly writing for long stretches of time. I don’t know how it happened, but I intuitively could see and feel my experiences for the first time in this really overwhelming and honest state or whatever. I felt like my heart actually broke but in this sort of hopeful, genuine way. Like I could finally rebuild it.”

The song in question is a ghostly shiver, a sparse ballad anchored by the couplet “No one will answer your prayers/ till you take off that dress”. It is simultaneously tender and haunting, and sets the stage for what’s to follow: confessionals so stark and searing that the instinct is almost to flinch, to look away, if not for the lush, heartrending music it’s set to.

February saw the UK release of Perfume Genius’s debut single “Mr. Peterson”, which turned a seemingly innocuous tale of a high school teacher inside out, but with the debut full-length, 'Learning' – entirely written and recorded during the year Hadreas sequestered himself in his mother’s house – the world of Perfume Genius is unveiled. “The songs on the album are the ones I think are the most real,” Hadreas asserts. “And they are about everybody, you know? Even though some of them are directly from my experience - I always had everybody in mind.” Indeed, the record has a universality which renders it oddly accessible despite the intensely personal subject matter.

There is a certain romance to songs like the spectral, swooning “You Won’t B Here” and “When”, and even songs like the yearning “Write To Your Brother”, with its elliptical allusions to a mother treating a son “like a lover”. However, 'Learning' also treads some very dark, tormented places, especially when Hadreas swaps his piano for the doomy organs and layered synths of “Gay Angels” and “No Problem”, sorrowful elegies that could have soundtracked the saddest David Lynch film ever made. “Look Out, Look Out”, meanwhile, is simply harrowing, with Hadreas pleading “Look out, look out, there are murders about”, although it’s unclear as to who he is warning: us or himself.

Ultimately though, 'Learning' ends on a note of sheer beauty with the hymnal atmospherics of “Never Did”, which sounds like he is singing to the heavens, and which crucially resists the thematic trap of casting Perfume Genius as a purveyor of doom and gloom. For as much as 'Learning' is a catalogue of remembered pain and sadness, it is also about what it takes to get through it. Hadreas’s own story is proof of that. And this record is an indelible testament to his strange journey so far. http://www.matadorrecords.com/perfume_genius/biography.html « hide

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