Perfume Genius

No Shape

In 2011, Mike Hadreas worried that his music was too simple. “Why would people come and pay money for something so tiny?” he asked. His debut album, 2010’s Learning, was indeed, insular in its sonic assertions — but huge in its open vulnerability, as Hadreas tackled topics of acceptance, abuse and intimacy. This exploration continued through to the wistful, introspective nature of 2012’s Put Your Back In 2 It but it was 2014’s Too Bright that marked a shift in the Perfume Genius project.


It was an album that came guns-a-blazing, as Hadreas commanded, “No family is safe, when I sashay” on lead single ‘Queen’. The electronic-swells, moody percussion and often animalistic vocal delivery thrusting forward a new dawn for a songwriter who was known for his timid poignancy and subdued disposition. Hadreas continues this undeterred journey on what is perhaps his most assured and confident album, No Shape.


First single ‘Slip Away’ begins with the line, “Don’t hold back, I want to break free” and it’s in this that Hadreas introduces us to the pleasure of a Perfume Genius without restraint; an artist who is ready to give us everything. Here, he elevates the pleasure of brazen intimacy, as the introductory tracks dominate the senses with explosions of delirious euphoria, both in their lyrical context and in their lush, swarming texture.


This introduction is almost teasing however, as ‘Otherside’ opens with soft, delicate keys and eerie, silkened vocals – reminiscent of a pre-2014 Hadreas – before it explodes into a transcendent other-world. Star-like ripples burst through an operatic crescendo, glistening with glittery, electronic swells and angelic vocals that give the promise of an album that is both tenacious and sensitive.


This tenacity sees No Shape puff its chest in the face of adversity – “You can even say a little prayer for me, baby I’m already walking in the light” he teases on the defant ‘Go Ahead’; “They’ll talk, give them every reason, for child, you walk” he asserts on the dreamy ‘Just Like Love’. Here, Hadreas admires those who have never felt as though they fit in, perhaps sending a letter to his younger self and in turn, blossoming into a sparkling, self-assured convener. 


The album isn’t without its vulnerability though. On the moody, trip-hop led beat of ‘Die 4 U’, Hadreas evokes an erotic intimacy, as he breathlessly begs his lover to linger in the moment, offering a devoted commitment in the face of a world that offers only uncertainty. On ‘Valley’, he speaks of a relationship left in ruins, his vocal delivery full of earnest sorrow that juxtaposes the song’s child-like rhythms. “How long must we live right, before we don’t even have to try?” he asks, desperate and searching.


In terms of its sonic intent, No Shape is without-a-doubt Hadreas’ most vigorous effort to date. Juxtaposing the graceful strings of ‘Every Night’ with the frantic virtuosity of ‘Choir’, No Shape moulds itself to each story, whether it be the tentative nature of Weyes Blood collaboration ‘Sides’ or the darkened cabaret of ‘Run Me Through’. The explorative nature of the instrumentation urges Hadreas to bend his vocal delivery, which he does so with an impressive stamina.


Put bluntly, No Shape is essentially an album about love, in all its messy, beautiful glory. It’s fitting then, that last track ‘Alan’ is a faithful tribute to his long-term partner and musical collaborator Alan Wyffels. “Thought I’d hide, maybe leave something, secret behind, never thought, I’d sing outside,” he sings, affirming that it was this love that allowed him to come out from the shadows, to break free from his introspective doubts. “I’m here, how weird” he belts, feeling the earth beneath his feet, the sun on his face. What might seem unremarkable to others, is transformative for Hadreas and its in No Shape that we’re invited to feel those same effects.

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