Music from a bleakly beautiful twilight zone entirely of its own design.
Martin Aston 2012
Mike Hadreas’ music as Perfume Genius has an overwhelming aura of not just frailty but a haunted shadow, as if he was running scared or simply rooted to the spot with fear. As well he might, given the reaction to the 16-second promo for Put Your Back N 2 It: the still-life embrace between two men was banned online for "promoting mature sexual themes", and so failed a “family safe” code. The promo’s soundtrack was the song All Waters, which Hadreas’ label says deals with “internalised homophobia” and being “self-conscious about gay [public displays of affection]”. You couldn’t make it up.
Whatever bruised alienation he’s imbibed over time and the almost devastating quietness of his music, Seattle-based Hadreas is not the type to play the victim. In a recent interview he said, "If Rick in Pittsburgh or whatever isn't going to listen to my music because I'm gay, f*** it", and you don’t choose the alter ego Perfume Genius without anticipating some verbal brickbats in return.
Even if this follow-up to 2010’s debut Learning makes Bon Iver resemble Mastodon in comparison, the album title reinforces an emotional show of strength, and sometimes even an injection of musical welly. Though Learning’s stripped vocal/piano blueprint is Hadreas’ default setting, a fizzing guitar coda elevates AWOL Marine, Take Me Home adds echoing drums and pedal steel swoons in a doo-wop fashion, his own flights of falsetto included, and Hood is an even stronger take on that style. Normal Song also taps a 1950s dramarama, with the string synth mirroring the similarly retro-haunted region of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
But altogether Put Your Back N 2 It exists in a bleakly beautiful twilight zone of Hadreas’ own making. Indicative of this is No Tear, with his tremulous vocal (a touch Sufjan Stevens) on the chorus echoed by a creepy (as in Twin Peaks creepy) slowed-down vocal counterpart. But then Hadreas’ way of dragging you in to his sadness and confusion (and mirroring your own in the process) is a most bizarrely comforting feeling once you’re alone with him. And as Dark Parts puts it, in one of many memorable images or statements, “He’ll never break you, baby”. So this one goes out to Rick in Pittsburgh, and the overzealous censors: you may think you’ve won this little battle, but you’ll never win the war.