Perfume Genius

Ugly Season

Mike Hadreas flexes some gnarlier, knottier muscles on the soundtrack to a collaboration with choreographer Kate Wallich

Mike Hadreas’ sixth LP as Perfume Genius arrives two years after 2020’s acclaimed Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, but curiously much of the material pre-dates that LP. Ugly Season consists of music from the 2019 dance project The Sun Still Burns Here, a collaboration between Hadreas and choreographer Kate Wallich, and commissioned by the Seattle Theatre Group. ‘Pop Song’ and ‘Eye In The Wall’ were unveiled as trailers for the project some three years ago, and now, finally, the music is collected on one strange, elusive album.

Produced by Hadreas and long-time collaborator Blake Mills, with mainstay Alan Wyffels as musical partner, Ugly Season is a minimalist, ambient, often discordant traipse through dark textures and unusual moods. Perhaps the clearest antecedent for the material here is Björk; much of the music exhibits the same raw fragility and delicate, off-kilter textures as Björk’s underrated work on the soundtrack to Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9. Elsewhere, other pieces recall the harp-and-glockenspiel palette of Vespertine or the atmospheric woodwinds of Utopia.

But that’s not to say that Ugly Season is lush and pretty – at times, quite the opposite. Underpinning much of it is a barely-veiled industrial aggression. ‘Hellbent’, for instance, opens out from a helicopter blade rhythm with atonal synths and clattering percussion; ‘Photograph’, one of the few ‘songs’ in the traditional sense, marries Hadreas’ dark croon to a churning programmed loop that is more reminiscent of some of the material from his 2014 LP Too Bright.

Hadreas’ vocals are mostly pitched high throughout and occasionally treated, veering between breathy, closely-miked delivery and spoken word. The effect is one of mystical intimacy; because so much of the material is based on mood and texture, the effectiveness of the arrangements is paramount – and Ugly Season does well at balancing fragility and aggression. The elegiac ‘Just A Room’ comes beamed from a film soundtrack before taking a different turn; this is true too of pieces like ‘Teeth’, where woodwinds bloom from nowhere, and ‘Herem’, which recalls some of Nico’s more esoteric work. The last two minutes of ‘Eye In The Wall’, meanwhile, are like a widescreen flight of programming, percussion, and lush guitars.

Ugly Season finds Hadreas flexing a different muscle; don’t expect the mournful beauty of his earliest records or the avant-pop of No Shape. But what you will find is an artist keen on experimenting with mood and form. Much of the music probably makes greater sense alongside the dance project, but as a standalone piece of work it offers welcome insight into another side of Hadreas’ artistic temperament.

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