The last seven years have seen Perfume Genius (real name Mike Hadreas) steadily solidify himself as one of the most distinctive and emotive songwriters of his generation. From the lo-fi confessions of debut ‘Learning’ to the more expansive sounds present on last effort ‘Too Bright’, the Seattle native has bravely covered themes of domestic abuse, suicide, and the very real dangers facing the LGBTQ community via some of the most fragile tunes going.
Key to Hadreas’ appeal is his ability to sing a refrigerator manual and probably bring you to tears. His voice is soaked in earnest longing, the rocky road travelled to his own sense of contentment - a relative state – bleeding into everything he’s released up to this point. With ‘No Shape’ the 35-year-old is ready to let go of some of that troubled past and focus on the now, a now filled with a long-term relationship, dog, rent and the new challenge of what this all means. The issues of before were razor-sharp, now troubling factors are, in his words, "less clear... more confusing".
Opening number ‘Otherside’ lulls the listener into a false sense of security, the traditional skeletal piano and haunting vocals suddenly accompanied by an explosion of synths and backing vocals. It’s a jubilant treat that showcases producer Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Laura Marling) stamp on these more experimental thirteen tracks. The self-proclaimed ‘poster-wraith’ of old is now clutching a fuller palette of sounds to express himself, soul, art-rock and R&B all being utilized.
As a result some tracks leave more of an impression than others, but when they hit they hit, they hit to the core. Lead single ‘Slip Away’ is a raucously good time, its glitchy keys and pounding drums creating a contemporary pop song without sounding as derivative. The later ‘Wreath’ wouldn’t sound amiss performed by Florence Welch and co, it’s anthemic quality and danceable chorus big enough to fill and stadium or two. Still, it is in the stillness of nocturnal vibes that Hadreas’ proves most effective. Album highlight ‘Die 4 You’ combines sultry R&B and Portishead-esque trip-hop into a pure sex jam, breathy vocals and sparse instrumentation creating one of the best songs he’s shared with the world.
The following ‘Sides’, featuring the fantastic Weyes Blood, solidifies the Bowie level of playfulness on the album, the guitar tone itself ripped straight from the Berlin Trilogy. As seen with Héloïse Letissier on last year’s ‘Jonathan’, collaboration suits Perfume Genius, his delivery and love of space making it easy for a companion to join in on the fun. Penultimate number ‘Run Me Through’ returns to a more atmospheric arena, it’s soulful electronica harking back to some of the best chilled out cuts of the 90s. This in turn proves a nice tone setter for the following ‘Alan’, compositionally the simplest track here, and a beautiful ode to his partner.
Overall ‘No Shape’ sees a new exciting chapter for Perfume Genius, one that’s happy to fully throw off the image of the tortured artist for brighter, bolder entity. The future looks a little brighter.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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