Mike Hadreas is a twenty-year-old boy whose only recommendation (at such a young age, it’s understandable) comes from Gareth Campesinos! (Los Campesinos!). He only needs it to sell a little more (although Los Campesinos! don’t exactly have the media drawing power of U2) to move ahead on the runway of the folkie world, with one of the most spectacular works within a highly restrained production based entirely on the piano. Ten songs are included in his debut (under the alias Perfume Genius) barely totalling half an hour, and which nevertheless have an emotional density that establishes a monopoly throughout the entire listening. As Hadreas says, he has spent his entire life hiding from things (which we understand as bad things) that happened both to him and to his family and friends. Would you like a list provided by the artist himself? Because there is one. Laugh if you can at the childhoods of brilliant dolls like Michael Jackson or Macaulay Culkin: sexual abuse, addictions, suicides. All of this forms part of the group of near-death experiences of Hadreas. And he could only escape the inner quarantine through music, specifically this first LP, “Learning”, which is the real deal of exhibitionist psychological therapy (however he may cover up his face on the cover).
On the album we find songs that seem like they have always been there, waiting for someone to find them, the classic of the “bearded young man” (the musical genre where we put other sad men such as Damien Jurado or J. Tillman, for example). This is the case with the song “Learning” and its very sad piano, “You Won’t B Here” (built on arpeggios in basic scales and a chorus that seconds a dreamy melody), while the cathartic late-night song could be “No Problem” or the gospel sadness of “When”. Of course, it’s not only piano and voice, but we’re not talking about Rufus Wainwright either, although the semi-electronic arrangements have a more atmospheric than strident mission; in “Look Out, Look Out” a transistor voice mixes with a very slight ambiental reverb, and in “Gay Angels” there are a lot of David Lynch-style keyboards, cathedral choruses, and overlaying of voices. Another of this up-and-coming musician’s strong points are the lyrics, more wounding than a broken promise, especially those of “Mr. Peterson”, where he speaks about the suicide of a loved one (also notice, by the way, how he leaves the song airy when he builds on short melodies to leave the piano to carry the weight). This is the only song where he mentions outside influences: Joy Division is the chosen band. The events that have inspired Hadreas are completely personal, as shows through in “Write to your Brother”, and the story of someone called Mary who is supposed to remind her brother about a mother that treats her like a lover, and who is supposed to avoid saying silly things about her, in what seems to be a dialogue-thought taken from a real fact.
The songs on Perfume Genius’ debut album (and, if we are fortunate and the world is a sufficiently romantic place, of the rest of his future career) come with an invisible instruction manual. As happens in “Perry” (to name one), the message that they transmit can only be captured if you take them in directly during an important spiritual moment or you are psychologically affected (for better or for worse). It’s a little like what happens with the highly personal music of Chan Marshall in her more depressive-self-destructive phases. The end of the aforementioned “Perry”, a little psychedelic with sharp sounds of almost squeaking guitar attests to this. There is lava burning under this quiet-looking volcano. Try it, but handle with care. David Foster Wallace already said that people didn’t know what they were saying when they associated literature with lying on a sofa and reading under the light of a lamp from IKEA. It’s the same thing here. The crepuscular pianos (in “Never Did”, which is especially bloody) and the lo-fi aesthetic can change your life, even if it’s just for half an hour. If you don’t believe me, try to listen to a compilation of Satie in one sitting, and then try to be happy.
Perfume Genius - Learning