Review Summary: Hadreas' debut resonates profoundly and pulls at the heart strings.
“No one will answer your prayers / Until you take off that dress
,” quavers frailly one Mike Hadreas on the title-track to his debut album, Learning
. It is often said that naked we were born, and naked we shall return
– but emotionally naked
shall we ask for help? In his music Hadreas at least believes this, for he has lived a life that’s layers could not help but be peeled away and revealed through any artistic output he should ever choose to pursue, however tragic the results would be. As he sheds his skin over delicate piano chords and light-weight synths on this Matador release, we hear, and even feel
, Hadreas’ remorse, pain, and suffering through his personal tales of suicide, abuse, and addiction.
After stumbling into a life that he described himself as “headed down the path of self-oblivion
,” Hadreas returned to his mother’s house in Everett, Washington to try to re-establish himself, in whatever way he could. It was here that he wrote the title-track to this first release, its creation sparking months after months of writing, recording, and playing for friends and family. Both the song’s instrumentation and melody are delicate and moving, setting a tone for the rest of Learning
that flows smoothly over one silky line of tragedy, entangled with both Hadreas’ frail, broken vocal delivery and pleading, simple instrumentals.
Not so unlike the profound statement that was Sigur Ros
’ 2002 Untitled
, “Gay Angels” is a cut that utilizes the aching delivery of the vocalist as a musical instrument to caress its synths and ambient textures. Here the songwriter is vocally not such a far-off comparison to the Icelandic band’s Jonsi
, both in his falsetto and mournful wale; but most often the “Perfume Genius” rests easily somewhere along the line between Sufjan Stevens
and Neil Young
, particularly in his fragile and just-close-of-dying tone. It’s his voice that cruxes the factually based single, “Mr. Peterson,” a song in which Hadreas reveals what could have been an intimate relationship with a mentor in his past:”He let me smoke weed in his truck / If I could convince him that I loved him enough, enough, enough
,” who then goes on to unfortunately commit suicide at a time when the songwriter was just sixteen years old.
Ever so lightly deviating from the course that Learning
sets out on, mostly on the aforementioned “Gay Angels” and the synth-weighted “No Problems,” the album keeps a steady, unwavering course, varying slightly from one melody to the next. Its thirty-minute length helps keep things from becoming stale, and since Hadreas' emotions are so well engrafted into, and coming across from, the album, Learning
never quite becomes boring or overtly melodramatic. On a slightly smaller scale, it’s not so unlike the backdrop-story effect of Bon Iver
’s For Emma, Forever Ago
, which aided in that album's success, gave it additional emotional relevance, and even influenced the very sounds pervading its songs.
In one sense, as Hadreas puts it, “My background . . . shouldn’t have led up to this point
,” as he was seemingly on a road to self-destruction that could have just as easily ended his life in very much the same way as one Mr. Peterson's did. But in another way of looking at it, Learning
is the only result that could have come from the path that Hadreas has up until now transgressed. Thanks to a spark of inspiration that came to him one day while sitting at his mother’s piano in Washington, the songwriter found his calling and steered into a hopeful musical direction to begin anew, leading to the creation of Learning
, essentially the best debut album of 2010 thus far.