The fragile-voiced singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas continues the thrilling musical progression of 2014’s ‘Too Bright’ and sculpts his most concise yet adventurous statement to date.
On his first two remarkable albums, 2010’s ‘Learning’ and 2012’s ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’, the Seattle-based troubadour known as Perfume Genius patented a wispy, piano-based chamber-pop style that positioned him as a lo-fi, torch-song equivalent of Sufjan Stevens: understated, often maudlin narrative songs of pain, homophobia, suicide, abuse and alienation stripped-down to sparse, pensive confessionals.
In 2014, he issued ‘Too Bright’, his most outward-looking, sonically complex recording to date, fleshed out with denser textures and arrangements and the sterling contributions of Portishead’s Adrian Utley and PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish: his more muscular vocals were festooned with florid synth washes, busier percussion and a broader array of influence.
Hadreas’s latest work, ‘No Shape’, represents both a continuation of its predecessor’s greater stylistic reach and a confirmation of his burgeoning evolution as a keenly observant songwriter, glittering with baroque flamboyance and extroversion at every turn: this is an emboldened album that flaunts fresh musical pathways of rapture without abandoning the core themes and motifs of his sound-world.
Opening track, ‘Otherside’, eases you into familiar Perfume Genius territory; the singer’s delicate croon accompanied by the tinkle of a sparse piano melody. All of a sudden, the listener is plunged into a hair-raising blast of pulverising, Wagnerian drums and then swept back to forlorn balladeering. The similarly explosive ‘Slip Away’ doffs its cap to the industrial flurries of Sufjan’s ‘Age of Adz’ album, followed by the stunning bossa nova lilt of ‘Just Like Love’, a comely chunk of strings-laced, cabaret-electro-synth-pop that would be perfect for David Lynch’s new ‘Twin Peaks’.
Another curveball arrives in the form of ‘Choir’, a stunning spoken-word piece set to a surging chamber music accompaniment that’s reminiscent of Arvo Part or Max Richter. Meanwhile, the giddy, ecstatic ‘Wreath’ references Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, the agitated ‘Go Ahead’ and the tremulous ‘Die 4 You’ both mine a spectral, r’n’b/ electro-funk pulse with a louche grace and the elegant, Tindersticksian ‘Valley’ is one of the loveliest things he’s ever written.
On ‘No Shape’, Perfume Genius sounds both barmy and operatic, sumptuous and expansive, without sacrificing any of his trademark tenderness; his wistful creations suit this epic pomp and grandeur.