Review : Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
PitchforkHow do we deal with personal trauma? After it's over, what comes next? These are some of the Big Questions Seattle singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas addresses on his second album as Perfume Genius. Put Your Back N 2 It follows Hadreas' overlooked 2010 debut, Learning, and it feels like a proper sequel to that album's suite of dysfunction and devastation. On his first album, Hadreas tackled subjects such as molestation, substance abuse, suicide, the complications of inappropriate sexual relationships, and the struggle for acceptance from those you love. The morose subject matter and melodic simplicity of Learning's piano-based songs drew comparisons to indie-pop artists like Stephin Merritt and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's Owen Ashworth. But Hadreas' ability to set a scene and convey detail, which brought to mind Sufjan Stevens circa Seven Swans, lent the songs extra force. There were moments of impressionistic, synth-smeared beauty on that first record, but the overriding sense of despair and hopelessness could be overwhelming. On Put Your Back N 2 It, there's a crack of light coming through the darkness.
Hadreas is still exploring the more harrowing corners of human behavior. "Dark Parts" details the abuse his mother suffered at the hands of her father; opener "AWOL Marine" takes inspiration from a tape of homemade pornography that Hadreas viewed, in which one of the participants admits, camera still rolling, that he's just trying to get medication for his wife. "Floating Spit" also deals with drug addiction, "Take Me Home" explores prostitution in the context of of the need to be loved, while "17" uses a metaphor of a body stuffed into a violin, covered in semen, and hung up on a fence to shine a light on corrosive self-loathing. So don't let the whimsical album title fool you: If you're looking for something low-key to vibe out to, you've come to the wrong place....full text
GuardianImagine that Lana Del Rey weren't a pert-lipped caricature of a woman, singing songs about low-rent love, but a young man. You might land upon the appeal of Perfume Genius, a singer whose blacker-than-noir accounts have the tang of reportage about them.
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It's true, Perfume Genius's songs don't pout and grind like Del Rey's, despite the hip hop reference in the title of his second album, Put Your Back N 2 It. His tunes are often (very) basic lo-fi piano and guitar confessionals that recall obvious forerunners like Elliott Smith, the crackly Bon Iver of For Emma, Forever Ago or a less angelic Antony Hegarty.
Mike Hadreas, the 30-year-old Seattle-ite who is Perfume Genius, hasn't had anywhere near as much attention as Del Rey, of course. His most recent video, for "Hood", was apparently rejected by YouTube for being too adult-themed to be prominently advertised across the site, featuring as it does two men in their pants (the video is still viewable on the site, though). One of the men in pants is a porn star. But rather than putting his back into it, Arpad Miklos is tenderly brushing Hadreas's hair. Celebrity fan Michael Stipe weighed in, castigating YouTube's reticence.
Hadreas pretty much deals in the repercussion of the tainted, chemically altered love glamorised by Del Rey. The press that accrued around his own first album, 2010's racked, redemptive Learning, focused on Hadreas's drug-and-drink-fuelled past. An attempted seduction by a teacher who later killed himself was recounted candidly on "Mr Peterson". Hadreas recorded Learning while living with his mother, whose own traumas he has been unafraid to explore. As he says on this album's "Dark Parts", "I will take the dark parts of your heart into my heart". Hadreas may be writing from an outsider perspective (well, as far as that term is understood by heterosexuals), but his reach is wide, bearing witness and dispensing succour to lost souls of all stripes....full text
AvclubPerfume Genius’ debut, Learning, was one of the more captivating albums of 2010, presenting a collection of fragile ballads that creator Mike Hadreas seemed palpably reluctant to share. Since then, Learning’s success has coaxed him out of his suburban isolation and onto tours with the likes of Beirut, and a full recording studio for the follow-up, Put Your Back N 2 It. With its plodding tempo and hushed piano-plunking, the sophomore effort mines the same stark vein as its predecessor, again achieving more by doing less.
Songs such as “Dirge” quietly mesmerize with nothing more than a couple quiet chords, a dash of ambient filler, and Hadreas’ frail croon; similarly, the coolly surreal “Floating Spirit” seeps into the ears with atmospheric synths, a drum machine, and an echoing chant. Here and there, he does expand beyond Learning’s format, as lush arrangements and orchestral flourishes deliver the album’s most dramatic and beautiful moments. It’s a shame he doesn’t experiment more with a fuller sound, however, because much of Put Your Back N 2 It’s bleak mood feels calculated rather than organic.
Hadreas’ minimalism often comes off as compensation for a shortage of ideas; seven of the 12 tracks are less than three minutes long, and many sound incomplete. (Also, while metronomic piano chords are the name of the game, they do eventually get a bit repetitive.) On the plus side, he is a more than a capable songwriter, and most of the record’s foibles can be chalked up to an emerging artist simply trying to find his way. There are signs of Hadreas’ increasing willingness to play off his rising status—the album’s promo video featured a gay porn star and caused controversy when it was rejected by YouTube—and embrace his audience. Put Your Back N 2 It fails at recreating Learning’s tortured confessionals, but its confidence is promising. ...full text
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