Perfume Genius releases fourth studio album ‘No Shape’
Mike Hadreas doubles down on firm, fearlessly transgressive vision
Even before the end of the first track, it is obvious that “No Shape” — Perfume Genius' first full-length album since 2014’s star-turning “Too Bright”— is a special record. Seattle-based songwriter Mike Hadreas projects a defiantly unique voice — firm, strong and gutsy in a climate of increasingly anemic, mealy-mouthed indie rock. Even after three incredible records, sold-out tours, critical adoration and a pair of triumphant late-night TV appearances, Hadreas still goes for it with an underdog’s hunger.
“No Shape” as a whole seems to exist on its own planet, far away from the music business as we know it in 2017. Like Bowie, Prince and The Flaming Lips before him, Hadreas is an outsider artist somehow able to see his bombastic vision through — executing pure, high art on a popcorn budget. Produced by Blake Mills — one of the pop industry’s best-known studio cats and an incredible guitarist and songwriter in his own right — “No Shape” is a huge, gorgeous record, recalling Broadway theater, album-oriented rock ‘n’ roll and apocalyptic cinema all at once.
Mills is an old head, and it shows in the remarkably dynamic range on the record, which has become all too rare in today’s blown-out, over-compressed pop. The first track, “Otherside,” begins in a hush, with Hadreas singing a heartfelt duet with himself over soft, muffled keys — only to absolutely explode into a lush, forceful spectrum of color. Like many of the iconic records influencing Hadreas, “No Shape” draws from a number of disparate styles in its pursuit of transcendence. Through a liberal use of warm analog synth tones, Hadreas recalls a variety of genres — from dubby UK electronic to early ambient music to ‘80s funk. He blends these with traditional rock instrumentation, as well as earthier textures via acoustic guitar, strings and big vocal ensembles. However, this is not a game of ‘let’s see how many different hats I can wear so my record sells.’ Hadreas wields these influences with confidence, fusing them into an organic whole.
Of course, no amount of gorgeously recorded instrumentation and impeccably arranged ensemble parts is going to save a record that has nothing to say. But, nobody in today’s world of almost-commercial indie rock has as much to say as Hadreas does. One scroll through his Wikipedia page reveals a life of trials and tribulations. After being bullied out of high school for his sexuality, Hadres spent his early twenties partying, working odd jobs and developing a debilitating substance abuse problem. He really only surfaced in the pop world in 2010, by which time he was staring down the end of his twenties.
As a result, Hadreas doesn’t waste any creative energy on platitudes. On “Too Bright,” he confronted the hardship of being a gay man in 21st-century America, reclaiming his self-image with the infamous kiss-off, “No family is safe when I sashay.” With nothing settled on that front in the ‘Trumpified’ modern day, “No Shape” delves into Hadreas’ bond with his longtime partner and collaborator Alan Wyffels, a relationship which began when the two were still recovering from substance abuse. With a purely Romantic flourish, Hadreas elevates his partnership with Wyffels into the heavens — ecstatic, tortured, doe-eyed, daringly erotic and nothing in between.
Departing from the typical despairing center of Hadreas’ music, “No Shape” is full of memorable euphoric moments that culminate into a provocative, triumphant LP.