Monday, 29 September 2014

Perfume Genius - Too Bright review

Despite only having two records under his belt thus far, Mike Hadreas has already established himself not only as one of the finest songwriters in contemporary music, but one of the finest storytellers too. His debut album Learning was a low-key affair; 11 stripped-down tracks, many of which telling harrowing tales of Mike's adolescence and coming to terms with his sexuality, drenched in reverb which created a sense of intimacy as well as distance. The theme was very much the same with his sophomore record Put Ur Back N 2 It, through the introduction of clearer vocal mixing and more experimental song structures made it feel like a massive leap for Hadreas' artistry. On both records, Hadreas' vocal delivery was fragile and soft, complying rather nicely with the delicacy of the themes he explores; ranging from love and loss to drugs and homophobia, I think it's fair to say that Hadreas is not one to shy away from the darker subject matters in his songwriting, and for that I respect him even more.

Just when we (as an audience) thought he had Perfume Genius sussed, he throws us a curveball in the form of 'Queen'; extravagant, loud and seemingly confident, this was a side of Hadreas that we had never seen before and it left us all wanting more. Everything from the epic in-your-face music video to the excellent lyrics (most notably "No family is safe, when I sashay") felt like a massive departure from his previous sound on which he has built his following, but beneath all this his vocals still had that distinctive quivering undertone which told me that he still has that ever-relatable vulnerability. This new style is far from a one-off, Too Bright is full of avante-garde pop delights such as 'Longpig' with it's futuristic, hypnotic synth line and pounding drums creating a ritualistic tone, this being worlds away from his earlier, acoustic tracks. The track 'Fool' begins with a synth/drum/base which lends itself to one of the catchiest vocal melodies of Hadreas' discography thus far, naturally the song then descends into a sparse, organ-led spiritual breakdown, exploring yet more exciting sonic territory. On 'My Body' and 'I'm A Mother' we Hadreas evoke a sense of menace, not only through the darkness of the lyrics but through the density of the production also, the latter track in particular uses down-pitching vocal effects to create an atmosphere so dark it is almost surreal.

What makes Too Bright special is its ability to shift between these aforementioned off-kilter avante-pop tracks and more stripped back balladry, meaning that the content shows heaps of progression without alienating his prior fanbase. Despite the immense levels of confidence he exhumes on the more instrumentally dense tracks, we still see moments of emotional vulnerability and self-loathing on the piano ballads, a familiar territory for Hadreas. 'No Good' combines the lyrical theme of inferiority and being at unease in your own body, "There is gentle way, there's no safe place, for the heart to hand when the body is no good", he sings over a gentle piano melody, before the instrumentation progresses into a luscious outro. Album standout 'Too Bright' uses subtle synth flourishes to enrich the melody and give the track an almost spiritual and medicinal feel, despite the cryptic and sparse lyrics this is one of the most powerful tracks on the entire album. Closing track 'All Along' has a very similar effect to that of 'Windows', the closer on Angel Olsen's incredible Burn Your Fire For No Witness; through the majestic instrumentation and the defiant sentiment of "I don't need your love, I don't need you to understand, I need you to listen", the album becomes a statement of where Hadreas is with himself, which adds a new level of satisfaction to the record.


Standout tracks: Queen, Fool, No Good, Grid, Longpig, Too Bright, All Along

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