Perfume Genius

Put Your Back N 2 It

I’ve twice met Mike Hadreas while writing about his band, Perfume Genius, for The Quietus. On both occasions, he was freezing cold. Back in 2010, we conducted an interview in the vestry of St. Phillip’s Church in Salford on an icy winter’s evening. Hadreas was shaking not only as a means of thermoregulation, but also out of fear – he was about to play his second ever UK show and was plain petrified.

The second time I met Hadreas was a month ago in East London. As the venue for our interview wasn’t actually open for another hour, we sat in a small courtyard shivering in the January morning air. Dressed in an over-sized faux-fur coat, Hadreas was still as sweet, funny and self-deprecating as he’d been back in the church, but he now radiated a gentle calmness and a quiet, steely purpose.

In some senses, my two meetings with Hadreas encapsulate the differences between his 2010 debut Learning and this set of bolder, clearer songs. Learning was written as an act of cathartic self-therapy without any intention of anyone but a select few ever hearing its series of naked confessionals. The extremely lo-fi bedroom production provided additional charm to a set of songs that laid his soul open to be picked at by the vultures of culture. Listening to Learning was an almost voyeuristic experience.

Consequently, Put Your Back N 2 It could never attain that initial sense of the shock and awe. Hadreas now has our attention and its subtle tide of expectation. Unlike the creation of Learning, he was acutely aware that people would want to hear his new art. When, last month, YouTube decided in their infinite wisdom to ban a short trailer for the video to the single ‘Hood’ – in which our hero is shown embracing gay porn star Arpad Miklos – none other than Michael Stipe came leaping to the defence of Hadreas. Perfume Genius is now big news.

So, it is a significant personal triumph for Hadreas that Put Your Back N 2 It is so thrillingly excellent. Produced by Drew Morgan in three UK-based different studios, the dozen songs are wide-eyed and open in their clarity. Hadreas’ vocal now sits at the head of the mix, backed by his simple piano codas and woozy keyboard atmospherics. What is particular fabulous is that none of the laser-guided, heart-wrenching emotion has been lost; Morgan’s production has gently polished and distilled the Perfume Genius joyride of hope and redemption.

The opening passage of music perfectly outlines the dual strands of DNA that run through Hadreas’ music. ‘AWOL Marine’ is beautifully sad with a distant vocal bathed by the backdrop of a ghostly organ. It sounds like a song from beyond the loneliest of graves. It’s immediately followed by the plinking, nursery-rhyme piano of ‘Normal Song’ on which Hadreas lays out his manifesto; the banishment of self-pity and the acceptance of inner strength. Both tracks are vintage Perfume Genius – if songs from second albums are allowed such a eulogy.

According to Hadreas, Put Your Back N 2 It, was created amid the milieu of unhappiness. While his debut had been created in the safety-zone of his mother’s house, his new writing was shaped new uncertainties. "I realised I had to be a responsible adult but I still felt like such a baby," he told me last month. His reaction was to dig deeper and write himself out of his depression and "make something that would be a comfort and be productive" – a philosophy best highlighted on the flickering power of ‘No Tear’.

Elsewhere Put Your Back N 2 It is dotted with small steps of experimentation. Hadreas opens up his pharynx on ’17’ to deliver his most soulful vocal to date, while ‘Take Me Home’ is a revelation; a despairing ballad which shape-shifts into a glorious neo-gospel finale.

If Learning was a private primal scream, Put Your Back N 2 It is Mike Hadreas’ first public display of his escalating talent. Perfume Genius requires our tenderness but, in return, will likely offer untold future majesty.

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