by Trevor Paxton
If life is an amalgam of our experiences, then the music of Perfume Genius is a perfect reflection of life itself. No stranger to exploring the beautiful, the ugly, the uncomfortable, the elated, the dysphoric, and everywhere in between, Mike Hadreas has always expressed an uncanny ability to put words to emotions in a fashion only he’s capable of. Constantly inviting the listener into his world of complicated isolationism, Hadreas consistently finds new avenues of self-discovery through an obsession with unadulterated self-expression.
On "Dark Parts," the second single from 2012’s excellent Put Your Back N 2 It, Hadreas recounts the tale of his mother’s abuse at the hands of her grandfather. "The hands of God were bigger than grandpa’s eyes / But still he broke the elastic on your waist," he croons, all before repeating the heartbreaking line, "But I’ll take the dark part / Of your heart into my heart."
On his fourth album, No Shape, Perfume Genius takes that isolation and explodes it into grand proportions. From the tender piano notes that begin album opener "Otherside," we find Hadreas in comfortable territory, until a euphoric orchestral blast crashes into your earbuds like a tidal wave; this is pure ecstasy. The first half of No Shape is absolutely divine; we find Hadreas is at his most maximalistic, embracing life, love and catharsis — a territory he’s only ever dipped his toes into. "Slick, sheen so bright it’s a bother / You are cultivating grace," he sings on the glistening "Just Like Love." Much like "Queen," the defiant anthem from 2014’s Too Bright, many of No Shape’s first-half tracks are a metaphorical “fuck it” of embracing yourself in the face of others’ judgments. “Running up that hill / I’m gonna peel off every weight / Until my body gives away / And shuts up,” he sings through the spirited drive of "Wreath." Hadreas isn’t just hoping for transcendence — he’s single-handedly creating it for himself.
However, the exuberant veneer Hadreas created within the first six songs begins to peel back, exposing a world of hesitance, reluctance, and guarded realism. Through the frantically arpeggiated, string-laden confines of "Choir," Hadreas has seldom sounded more restrained. "I can’t dream / Something keeps me / Locked and bodied," he anxiously gasps. "It’s weird here / Choirs threaten / In voices I only feel." On the otherworldly groove of "Die 4 You," Hadreas subverts the typical love song trope of being so encapsulated in passion that you would literally die for someone into a metaphor for total trust through the act of erotic asphyxiation. "Where do you go sometimes? / Idle and empty-eyed," he aches on "Sides," a duet with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, before he confesses, "This loop is wearing thin / And I won’t be here when it ends." Mering fires back in response: "Don’t wanna start our game / That we play / If it ain’t easy to love me / Cut the cord and set me free," before pleading, "It’s never too late to stay / Hold me right / Don’t cut me down."
Still, nothing feels quite as stunningly heartfelt as album closer "Alan" — a short, piano-driven devotional to his long-term boyfriend Alan Wyffels — where Hadreas mumbles in a hushed baritone, "Did you notice / We sleep through the night? / Did you notice, babe / Everything is alright?"
"You need me," he floats in a flickering falsetto. "Rest easy — I’m here."
It is this understated emotional dichotomy that makes No Shape Perfume Genius’ most well-executed album to date. Hadreas has exchanged the relentlessly agonizing for a finely-tuned balance of passion — all while maintaining an incredible sense of honesty. In his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde penned that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life”; Perfume Genius’ No Shape is living proof of just that.
Song You Need To Hear: "Die 4 You"