Perfume Genius
Ugly Season


3.9
excellent

Review

by don't ask me, I don't know any hallways STAFF
June 18th, 2022 | 140 replies


Release Date: 06/17/2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Unmake my name

Pick no bones, erect no pretexts: tune your ears to Perfume Genius (aka Michael Hadreas) immediately. Full disclosure, I have neither detailed familiarity with his full body of work nor, from what I have heard, any particular interest in exploring it any further. His magnetic new record Ugly Season has been hailed as a striking departure, and I am more than happy to embrace the latter half of that description for all it’s worth on the strength of the former. Capisci? This thing is *striking as all hell*, a whirl of chamber pop, modern classical, (sigh) post-industrial and whatever else, dancing from style to style, beat to beat with breathtaking fluidity. It’s tempting to chart it as a dazzling hybrid, yet it takes the specificities of each constituent element in its stride without belonging entirely to any given one.

This collectedness owes much to the record’s tactile qualities: Ugly Season was written for choreography, which accounts for both its pulsating rhythms and its tantalising ambiguity of space and setting (a stark contrast with the dreary white walls of Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’s hipster cafe). At points, this is background context for pieces that need no pretext for their danceability, as on “Pop Song” and the splendid “Eye In The Wall”; at others, it’s a convenient raison d’etre for cuts that would be charitably passed off as ‘atmospheric’ were this a regular 100%-music album. This latter camp ranges from preludes to more captivating tracks (“Just a Room”) to dead spaces where we as an audience seize that thought of an accompanying immersive dance piece and visualise for dear life while Perfume Genius dutifully upholds the classically-tinged motions of ye olde kitsche limminalle soundetrack (“Scherzo”).

Neither of these are disastrous; we will write them off with a pretentious excuse (a side-effect of true experimentation) and focus on the core of the album. This, shock horror, is not made up of concerns of medium and pacing: it’s a melting pot of light and darkness where each side retains its individual distinction but takes on an often nebulous outline (see: artwork). These contortions of shading follow no fixed form - they pan out as anything from a murky overlap, as per “Photograph”’s brilliant mingling of post-industrial gloom with the baroque dalliance of Perfume Genius past, to a convectional interchange, as per “Eye In The Wall”, the riveting central segment of which sees an ambient sunrise break over the Talking Heads-esque night of the living dead that churns over its opening stretch. It’s never just formalism - each moment of tension or transition brims with kinetic potential. The record’s demands too much physical manifestation or reaction to get tangled in its abstraction. Ugly Season darkness isn’t just for show; it’s a place to move your body.

That darkness is sufficiently pervasive that it’s tempting to hear Ugly Season as menacing. On closer inspection, however, this side of the album resonates much less for its threat than for its undefined mass of possibilities. There’s something initially unsettling to its stylistic and structural unpredictability, yet a little familiarisation yields swift results: the early standout “Herem”, for instance, goes from deeply haunting to stunningly beautiful across a small handful of repeats, and neither lens diminishes its power. This, of course, has much to do with the real core of the album, or the core-to-its-core: queerness, aesthetic or otherwise. Blurring familiar denominations, redefining once-unknown space as a new source of attraction, forging a new identity on the margins of traditional contrasts? Yuh-uh. In a similar sense to Xiu Xiu’s chamber work (perhaps the fairest overarching comparison to be made here), Hadreas carves out precious moments of intimacy in soundscapes that would otherwise tend toward dourness, his arrangements and performance so delicate that not one of them is to be taken for granted in its form or nature. His music makes its own space and negotiates its own codes against the established order-of-things, and it feels and sounds right because he lives out a truth in these compositions - so much so that it hardly needs his throughly androgynous vocal performance to ram the point home any further. Let it be known, though, those stylings are a strong vehicle for strong melodies.

But never mind mere melodies - how good are those redefinitions wholesale! Going into “Pop Song” for the first time, I was all set to roll my eyes at what, surely, could only pan out as a crass lunge for the total opposite; imagine my surprise at how it wears its namesake like a loose-fitting coat over gorgeously understated hooks, sketching a disarmingly pure likeness of the #pop #song’s simplest qualities without even approaching something you’d mistake for the real deal. It’s the kind of thing that offers concrete form for that flim catch-all that the squares still call art pop. Slinky Subversion: 1・Clumsy Inversion: 0; touché, señor Perfume. As far as all-out crass gestures go, though, you’ll struggle to find any to compare with “Hellbent”. By far the most turbulent cut here, this track superimposes the irregularity of guitar feedback over the evenness of a tremolo-filtered synth pad, two kinds of modulation in dialogue with one another through their differences. It doesn’t really amount to a full “song”, but the clash of tones is at least engaging enough to bridge the distance; view it in the scheme of the album’s queerness, however, and it very much does amount to a knockout in style-substance fusion.

As touched on earlier, not all experiments are as successful. The title-track’s abrupt lurch into dub, say, is more valuable as a gesture of departure than for its strength as a song, but it’s struggle to hold such instances as more than minor wobbles in a whirl as marvellous for its unity as its eclecticism. And that’s it. Ugly Season neither gets nor needs a real conclusion. It’s about open possibilities, not fixed forms or closed statements, and moreover, it’s the kind of music that speaks perfectly well for itself. Perfume Genius could easily have made this as a wilfully oblique record; the reality is mercurial, intoxicating and richly creative at every turn, and you now know this. Get out there and get lost in it.



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user ratings (87)
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 18th 2022


48653 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

it is here it is bold it is different it is good it is abstract it makes you move it makes you shake it is good

recommended trax: harem, pop song, eye in the wall, photograph

recommended albums: listen to all of them, they are good

https://open.spotify.com/album/6rFFWK98d8hhdSYgaOxI5L?si=2Ui7ihAnQ3Sj7P2Vc-M2YA



parksungjoon
June 18th 2022


44637 Comments


unaware im tearing you asunder
oh there is thunder in our hearts

Mort.
June 18th 2022


18856 Comments


good review johnny, you seem to be on a roll recently, swear ive seen like 5 reviews from you in the last couple of weeks or so

Digging: Nirvana - In Utero

parksungjoon
June 18th 2022


44637 Comments


talking heads mentioned ;o

Sowing
Moderator
June 18th 2022


41314 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Easiest 5 I've given out all year. Review is absolutely on-point for the most part especially in terms of your descriptions of the songs, which I couldn't have mustered up anything comparably detailed/astute, but I think this is pretty groundbreaking even for an artist who's already been transcending boundaries the better part of his career.

Digging: Shinedown - Planet Zero

Mort.
June 18th 2022


18856 Comments


makes me ashamed of my 3 years break in between reviews

parksungjoon
June 18th 2022


44637 Comments


same

anat
Contributing Reviewer
June 18th 2022


4827 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

this is the album to beat this year

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 18th 2022


48653 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

dunno about that, but it's a Must for sure

in my head, i can string a solid trinity of Recent Macabre Queer Self-Mapping Records That Are Very Good between this, Oh No and Glitch Princess. would probs call this my least fav of the three at present, but that's a v steep calibre and that grouping wouldn't make much sense stylistically without it. loads of other ways you could place it/i didn't wanna bring that into the rev, but yeah hmm discuss

and ty mort/sowing - been in a groove lately, probs out of procrastinating a lot of study. feeling kinda frazzled, but more to come

Pikazilla
June 18th 2022


23181 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

must to beat, yeah

anat
Contributing Reviewer
June 18th 2022


4827 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I must beat you (up) pika

Slex
June 18th 2022


14045 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I LOVE the T/T smh

Digging: Conjurer (UK) - Pathos

Pikazilla
June 18th 2022


23181 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

it's better than anything on smell my fart immediately for sure

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 18th 2022


48653 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

pika what's your fav Perfume?

Gyromania
June 18th 2022


34579 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

A Pika 2.5, Johnny 3.9, and Anat and Sowing 5 mean this must be at least a 4.5

Gyromania
June 18th 2022


34579 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also that album art is legitimately terrifying but I love it

pizzamachine
June 18th 2022


16519 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

What’s with these terrible band names lol

Digging: Draconian - Under a Godless Veil

Pikazilla
June 18th 2022


23181 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@johnny let me get back to you with that one

Cimnele
June 18th 2022


2242 Comments


love the vox here
not sure how fascinated i am with the accompaniment


Digging: Yoo Doo Right - A Murmur, Boundless to the East

Gyromania
June 18th 2022


34579 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Hmm the first few songs were remarkably tame and sort of similar sounding. I dig it but I also kind of want a bit more



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