Perfume Genius – “17”

By: Jack Stein

Perfume Genius is Mike Hadreas, a Seattle-based artist who emerged in 2010 with Learning, a devastating debut of a record that touched on highly personal and oft-graphic subject matter (standout track “Mr. Peterson” alluded to a past relationship with an older man and the emotional scarring that ensued.) While the mood hasn’t lightened any on his stellar follow-up LP Put Your Back N 2 It, the fidelity has improved significantly, allowing Hadreas’ wounds to shine more clearly devoid of sonic murk.

Don’t give Put Your Back N 2 It a spin expecting a passive listen whatsoever; Hadreas partakes in the type of lyrical and thematic bloodletting that is rare within the self-conscious and irony-inundated music we so often encounter. Hadreas bares his own wounds for all to see, often through beautifully obscure imagery recalling Jeff Mangum in terms of both sexuality and surrealism (the body encapsulated inside a semen-covered violin of “17” is particularly jarring.) So, yeah.

Those who stick with Hadreas, however, will be rewarded by one of the most quietly devastating, majestic records of recent times; think Sufjan Stevens at his most intimate (and least pretentious) and you’re not far off. Accompanied by no more than his own piano and the occasional hum of electronic dissonance or quiet orchestration, these stark ballads to confusion and isolation strike the listener in ways that we aren’t quite used to.

The aforementioned “17” is the closest thing to a highlight on a record that flows organically as a single piece, simultaneously showcasing the gently swelling nature of Hadreas’ harrowing compositions and the most evocative and disturbing image of the LP.  Clearly, this is music Hadreas needed to make for himself; one listen to Put Your Back N 2 It provides us a glimpse into the battered psyche of a a young, homosexual man at odds with the world and trying desperately to make sense of it all. For those willing to take the leap, the most impressive record of 2012 thus far awaits.


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