Seeing the uproar caused because YouTube decided—incomprehensibly—to censor the teaser for “Hood,” and thinking of the arsenal of painful concepts that inundate their lyrics, a category that Mike Hadreas’ music could be placed into occurs to me. It would be something like “sado pop” and, besides being used for his two precious albums, we could also use it to christen what contemporaries like Trust, Xiu Xiu (back again with the anxiously-awaited “Always”) or How To Dress Well are doing. It is a reductionistic, oversimplified categorisation, which doesn’t make much sense beyond surprisingly reasonable similarities between things like “Floating Spit” and the music of the aforementioned HTDW, but it serves to throw some light on that handful of composers, people who live a little in the shadows, cut off from everything around them. Of all of them, Perfume Genius is by far the most refined. Instead of being dirty and labyrinthine, the dark room that his songs come from is a quiet hallway that we find to be painted in pastel colours as soon as someone turns on the light switch. For “Put Your Back N 2 It,” Hadreas has changed rosewood for sky blue, but he has chosen to keep some damp cloths on the cover, stuck to a photo, which seem to be intended to clean the wounds of the past or to clean up fluids that may have gone where they shouldn’t have.
In other words: underlying Perfume Genius there is something flagellating and dark, but our man knows how to translate those dregs into pure beauty. And he does it in such suggestive ways, that it makes you want to go on with the metaphors in order to try to explain the purity of ‘Normal Song” or “Dirge.” Let’s go on, then. When someone flicks that switch that we were talking about, and the light comes on, that will be when we catch the bloke with his pants down (or, to say it another way, emotionally completely bared), on his knees (to pray— don’t be nasty-minded), with his heart bleeding profusely, not even worrying about whether he is staining the walls or the floor. Alright, if it was such a haemorrhage, Mike would be beyond dead, but then we could still keep resorting to literary figures and say that “Put Your Back N 2 It” would have been something like his emotional testament, or better yet, the ideal soundtrack for his rise to heaven. Because beyond whatever words we want to use to describe it, this second work is the most refined sublimation possible of that fading torch-song that he presented in “Learning.” Here, our man is still completely destroyed, but his new compositions give us a glimpse of a more diaphanous calm, softened by little rays of hope that—even though they may mean a loss of some of the disturbing power of “Learning”—give transparency to the central theme that has always been evoked in Perfume Genius: forgiveness.
Although he states that he doesn’t want to seem as if he “had been through more than other people, ” Hadreas bears that emotional sodomy that the album title refers to indirectly alone, a little in the same way that the Antony of the first album transformed the cracks in his heart into divine glory. There is, however, another author who he reminds us strongly of, even more than his admired The Innocence Mission, and that is the Sufjan Stevens of “Seven Swans,” especially because of that voice of a wounded bird that turns any verse he touches into gold. Perfume Genius robustly builds a songbook born of silence, fighting not to violate its space too much, bringing out the songs in it as if they were scabs of dead skin. This is clear from the beginning of the album, with that “Awol Marine” that comes out of the blue to end in distortion, to the end, with “Sister Song.” Along the way, there are barely 30 minutes, during which time we find a singer-songwriter with a really refined form and depth, a fallen angel who, with only the soundtrack to “Twin Peaks” festering in his soul, a few tears, and a piano (his best weapon), manages to raise a devastating, shining repertoire. He transmits depth, leaving the emotions to overflow by themselves, and without raising his voice much, sings the saddest verse of the season ( “be like a shadow of a shadow of shadow for you,” in “Take me Home”). There is definitely a whiff of genius here.