Review Summary: drive on, my special one.
I’ve got a soft spot for sad music. I always find it thrilling when an artist or band can conjure truly deep or painful emotions with their art. It has led me to have an utter appreciation for artists like Mike Hadreas, otherwise known as Perfume Genius. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest that has given us such gleaming indie-rock titans such as Sleater-Kinney and Modest Mouse, as well as a slew of abstract acts like Grouper and Valet. Hadreas’ corner of the country provides us with some of America’s best music, and you can add him right to that list. His music leans more toward the insular, mostly sporting simple and pretty piano melodies and his own delicate, pained voice. It’s a unique voice, one that cracks and shapes itself into some odd phrasing styles, but it has so much emotion. In every word of Hadreas’ sad songs, the tension and brokenness is palpable. His debut, Learning
, was one of 2010’s best; a short collection lo-fi piano-pop songs, all with a heartbreakingly confessional tone.
Well, things are starting to shift for Perfume Genius, albeit slightly, with his sophomore release, Put Your Back N 2 It
. Since releasing his debut, Hadreas has bumped up his recording quality quite significantly. Where his older material cracks and hisses, these new songs shine with a fine sheen. It is nowhere near overproduced, but instead it brings Hadreas’ talents even closer to the limelight they deserve. His style of writing has altered as well – these songs are still almost uniformly sad, but they are also much less confessional than his debut. Hadreas has said that he wanted this record to address broader themes and feelings, and though many fans of his debut might see this as a negative, I think it works out brilliantly. His words are still packed with emotion, and his voice still sounds fraught with feeling, making each line sound like it is barely able to be uttered.
The saddest songs on the album are often the most minimal. “17” has been described (by Hadreas himself) as a “gay suicide letter,” and that sure sounds about accurate. The hesitation in between the words of the closing sentiment “Don't sing me that song, it / Will only prolong it” is deeply moving. And on album highlight “All Waters” – a stylistic hark back to older song “Gay Angles” – we get a truly heartbreaking account of the anxieties about society’s lack of acceptance for homosexuality, at least in a public arena, summed up in four lines: “When all waters still and flowers cover the earth / When no tree is shivers and the dust settles in the desert / When I can hold your hand on any crowded street / And hold you close to me, with no hesitation.” It’s a striking moment, proving yet again Hadreas’ ability to slay us with his unique songwriting.
Glimmers of hope do shine through. “Normal Song” sounds like somebody trying to cheer up their friend, telling them things like “No violence, no matter how bad / Can darken your heart or tear it apart,” over a gentle acoustic guitar. Then there’s “Take Me Home” and “Hood,” the former of which is a pretty downcast but irresistibly poppy song about a prostitute, while the latter is a catchy, percussive testament to trying the best you can in love. “Sister Song,” perhaps the best song on the record, closes the proceedings with a seriously minimal piano line (accompanied by a distant pedal steel) and a bittersweet, longing melody.
There is one problem with this record, and it is that some of these songs are just too short. “No Tear” and “Hood” (which ends just as it seems to begin) both clock in under two minutes, and only five go over three. The short-form works very well on some songs, like “Awol Marine” and “Sister Song,” but “Dark Parts” and the title track prove what he can do with slightly longer durations. It simply feels like Hadreas could have fleshed these songs out a bit more. That being said, what he has left us is a truly beautiful record; a set of songs of longing, heartbreak, and finally, a possible light at the end of the tunnel.
Best Tracks: Normal Song, All Waters, Sister Song
Final Rating: 4.2