Perfume Genius: No Shape – dazzling, self-healing alt.pop from Mike Hadreas
There is no denying that Mike Hadreas has been – possibly still is – something of a tortured soul. This makes sense considering that while at school he received death threats for having the courage of his gay-oriented principles. Subsequent beatings at the hands of school jocks and street thugs caused him to leave his home in the suburbs of Seattle for a life less threatening in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But then the drug addiction kicked in.
That was about 10 years ago, a time when the primary online outlet for unsigned songwriter hopefuls was MySpace. After he posted a few video clips of himself singing songs of self-loathing and flagrant self-awareness, US label Matador signed him. From then to now, in the guise of Perfume Genius, Hadreas has delivered material of perfect pop and soul dimensions with a level of semi-autobiography that is often pitiless and cruel.
On his 2014 album Too Bright, Hadreas sings: “I wear my body like a rotted peach, you can have it if you handle the stink . . .” (My Body). On No Shape, a line from the album’s first (and riotously terrific) single Slip Away indicates that he has, by degrees, moved on: “I wanna break free, God is singing through your body, and I’m carried by the sound.”
The interim self-healing period has been beneficial to Hadreas, and No Shape exudes such a level of rude health it’s uncompromising in its approach. Delicate lines, however, are expertly drawn through the album’s core concerns of accepting societal norms while instinctively challenging them.
Sticking to this “it isn’t me, it’s you” outline, Hadreas fashions a powerful collection of alt.pop songs such as Sides (lacerating guitar lines and luxe vocals), Valley (acoustic strum brushes against sublime melody), Die 4 U (sacred, keyboard-guided soul) and Braid (featherlight gospel).
Factor in a dazzling, defiant voice that bridges any noticeable gaps between Anohni, Jónsi and James Vincent McMorrow, and you have an album of authentic personality and hefty punch.