Seattle-based singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, more commonly known as Perfume Genius, has released two full-length albums: 2010's Learning and 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It, both under the Matador imprint. While Learning and Your Back offer their own musical and lyrical variations, the focus of each record tends to be Hadreas's troubled past.
As he mentions in the promotional material on Matador's website, before he began recording music he “was running around doing drugs and being fucking insane and getting into some dangerous business.” As the insanity of his life became too overwhelming, he returned to his mother's suburban home in order to confront the “abuse, addiction, suicide, all that cool stuff, [he] couldn’t bear to look at it” but felt he needed to confront.
The confrontation occurred when he sat down at his piano and wrote the music that would find its way onto Learning:
The record opens with the title track and its basic piano rhythm with lo-fi microphone hiss; the sparse arrangement and bedroom production creates an intimate atmosphere that the album sustains throughout its entirety. Soon thereafter, Hadreas's vocals, which he “was really embarrassed of,” so much so that he “never sang” until he first recorded the song, enter the composition's minimalist sonic palette. While frail and wavering, the vocals not only compliment Hadreas's instrumentation, but exude an endearing vulnerability that almost masks the fact that the lyrics describe a scene of sexual abuse: “No one will answer your prayers / until you take off that dress / no one will hear all your crying / until you take your last breath.”
The lyrics do not become any less harrowing on Put Your Back N 2 It. In the song “Dark Parts,” Hadreas sings of his mother's incestuous relationship with his grandfather: “The hands of God / were bigger than grandpa's eyes / but still he broke the elastic on your waist.” But there is a marked difference between Perfume Genius's sophomore effort and his debut collection:
The difference, as one can tell from the song “Hood,” manifests itself in the slicker production value, a vocal strength and range that no doubt stems from a newfound confidence, and arrangements that include a full band, which allow for a fuller more rock-oriented sound. Tracks such as “Hood,” perhaps, portend a grander and more expansive horizon for Hadreas in the future.
Perfume Genius is currently touring the United States and Europe in promotion of Put Your Back N 2 It. They perform in Denver, Colorado at the Hi-Dive on Friday, 13 April. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show.