Review Summary: The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it...
To call Mike Hadreas a conceptual artist is to do a disservice to a man who is simply an incredibly adroit and deliberate storyteller. His last trio of albums has seen him conjure and shape an auto-biographical figure. A man prone to addled darkness, wrestling with sexual identity and sexuality itself. A bruised man of bitter grievances. A man on fire. No Shape
’s cover art reveals the next tier in Perfume Genius’ thematic arc; from a lanky, awkward, half-obscured boy, to a young self-assured man cut from gilt sinew, to that same man, exposed, reeling and stumbling, clothes ripped and askew, made as weakened and humane as the rest of us.
The issue with an overtly pointed concept is that over the course of a full-length, it can easily tumble into oversaturation and an artist belabouring a point. But Hadreas manages to skirt these boundaries with ease and without seeming like he’s laying it on too thick. If 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It
was him coming to grips with his id, and 2014’s Too Bright
was his statement of flourishing within its ranks, No Shape
is a tender and beatific relay of how wonderful and wrenching love is once you get there. It serves Hadreas well, making No Shape
less insular and more relatable on a primal level. At its heart, No Shape
is an album about feeling ***ed over by romance.
Blake Mils handles production duties here and his electro-folk touch sits all over the album. It makes No Shape
’s more upbeat aspects carry less rough edges than what Adrian Utley and John Parish brought to Too Bright
’s louder bursts. And while No Shape
is certainly less of a declarative edict than its predecessor, that softened homogeny renders dancier tracks like Slip Away
more toneless than even the album’s thematic depressiveness calls for. Mind you, these are small gripes to have with a record that hands you one breathtaking hymn of exalted melancholy after another.
rides a dense, twitchy bass-line fleshed out with funk-tinged guitar licks and synthetic jerks that bring to mind D’Angelo’s arrangements on Black Messiah
. Die 4 You
is similarly RnB-tinctured. Hadreas’ voice sits well in this frame, never collapsing into maudlin desolation or pop pandering, but rather carving the sort of autumnal dysphoria that makes you walk for miles at night, just you and some earphones and a heavy heart.
The most poignant, heart-rending moments on No Shape
are still ones where Hadreas forgoes heady instrumentation for a more skeletal song structure, letting his fractured confessionals come to the forefront. He deftly navigates Valley
’s measured acoustic strums before the song implodes in celestial ambience, and Every Night
’s spare atmospherics and lulling violins form an idyllic minimalist backdrop for his plea of “Sister, let me in.”
’s dizzying opening salvo of strings is pulsing with anxiety. Hadreas’ voice truly is a marvel, half-speaking hushed couplets before rising to gauzy heights. It encloses around the song, delicate and unsettling at once. The piece peters out abruptly without the hair-rising crescendo it’s seemingly building towards, leaving the listener feeling utterly hollowed-out. It’s such a masochistic, guttering feeling that you almost feel relieved when Die 4 You
ushers in to interrupt it a few seconds later. Yet for all its dejected tendencies, it’s strange how euphoric and rapt No Shape
makes you feel. One can hardly tell if it’s due to Hadreas’ intention, or simply because a stellar piece of music can make all existence seem briefly limitless.
comes on like a muted roar, Hadreas warbling:
Did you notice?
We sleep through the night
Did you notice, babe?
Everything is alright
’s refrain of “You need me. I’m here” mercifully offers both Hadreas and the listener an instant of contented peace. After the subdued havoc of Put Your Back N 2 It
, and the assertive clamour of Bright
, it’s nice to see Perfume Genius come into his persona and delve deeper into heartbreak and love’s infinite. After spending so long in a troubled state, he deserves a short reprieve.