Too Bright by Perfume Genius (Album of the Week)

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Album: Too Bright

Artist: Perfume Genius

Year: 2014

About: 11 songs; 34 minutes

Choice: DJR Blogging

Mike Hadreas is the musician behind Perfume Genius and Too Bright is his third album. Hadreas is in his early thirties and only started making music after he brought himself home to Washington State to get himself clean. He released his first album in 2010 and a second in 2012. He has said in interviews that his music is an outlet for the issues he feels as a gay man in a society where the life that he lives is looked down upon by. This perception proved all too true when a video ad for his second album was banned from YouTube because it had what was deemed to be inappropriate for YouTube adult content. The clip showed Hadreas, a very small and delicate man, embracing a large, well built guy who happened to be a famous male porn star. Looking at the clip now, it is hard to believe that that same ruling would happen today, but I don’t know. Hadreas says that he looks at heterosexual couples interactions in public and wonders what it would be like if gays could interact the similarly without the threat of repercussions. We aren’t there yet, but I hope we have made some progress. The album made Dan do a little soul-searching as to whether his initial annoyance at what he reacted to as the album’s so-last-year gay message may be his own lack of comfort with the topic. We could all use a dose of such self reflection. Our final verdicts were similar, however. This is an album with which to spend some time.

Were I to go listen to albums one and two, it seems that I would get a different experience than this one. In doing some reading, albums one and two would fall more into a category shared with Rufus Wainwright or Sufjan Stephens – ballady, torchy, angsty. This one, while still retaining plenty of angst, takes the listener on a different kind of ride. This feels like an album powered by a guy knowing what he is after and ready to use different techniques to get there.This album’s sound is not just a quiet mood piece. It is at times poppy, R&B, synthy – and oftentimes multiple styles in one song.

I Decline is the opener and sounds to be what his other albums mostly offered. It is soft, piano chords and his close to falsetto voice with a touch of quiver. But then  the listener is alerted that there is more to explore in this album. Queen is the album’s star, and the delivery that Hadreas gives is a fantastic vocal snarl. Behind that is an aggressive keyboard line, woofs and a hard drive. When he sings “no family’s safe, when I sashay,” you believe him. Back in 2014, Hadreas performed this song on Letterman where he showed up in a white suit, heels, red lipstick and a black harness. Over on Pitchfork, Sasha Geffen wrote a really fantastic post about that performance. Below is part of what Geffen wrote:

We shouldn’t call Perfume Genius’s “Letterman” performance “brave”, because we’d never accuse a straight dude of bravery just for dressing up the way he wants. Insisting on your gender trans-gressions in a world that wants to stamp them out of you isn’t in itself “brave”; it’s necessary and exhausting. It takes a lot of muscle. It takes stamina to stand under hot TV lights in perfect red lips and sing through clothes that aren’t drag, aren’t a costume, aren’t supposed to be funny. And it takes a real streak of mischief to sing the words “no family is safe when I sashay” into the homes of families across America, and then sway like a motherfucker while your boyfriend hammers out a keyboard solo.

The rest of the album shows more of that mischief that Geffen identifies. Perfume Genius explores different sounds and styles while working through struggles with identity. Some of the tracks are really beautiful and reminded me of Art Garfunkle. Don’t Let Me In sounded so much like Jake Bugg, I had to look at my IPod to make sure it hadn’t skipped. Intermixed with the quiet songs, he brings in a song like Grid that combines an Elvis vibe with tribal drumming and a wild background line that veers between screaming and taunting.

I could almost see this album being made into a Tommy like opera. It listens like a performance piece by a guy who is continuing to discover his talents, his voice, and what he can do to show its’ power and place in the world.

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