Release Date: Jun 22, 2010
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Heartbreaking, rip-your-toenails-out bleakness is all part of [b]Perfume Genius[/b]’ charm. There’s also the way he conjures up barely finished sounding songs so stark and intense they make [b]Bright Eyes[/b] sound like [b]Black Eyed Peas[/b]. It’s clearly catharsis for Mike Hadreas (aka the fragrant clever-clogs behind the music), who sings of death and perversion and has a penchant for appearing bruised and near starvation-skinny in promo shots.
When I was at university my friend and I would play each other music constantly, usually accompanied by a Super Nintendo, a worn copy of Mario Kart and countless rolled up cigarettes. We had this running joke where every so often one of us would put on Grandaddy’s ‘Underneath the Weeping Willow’, leading us to engage in various stages of mock grief, staunching the imaginary tears that coursed down our cheeks. Of course, this wasn’t the only song that brought about such a reaction, and it wasn’t really a joke as such; more us amusing ourselves while tacitly recognising its parent album The Sophtware Slump as one of the saddest and most beautiful of the previous decade.
The promotional materials for Perfume Genius' Learning show the project's sole member, 26-year-old Seattle resident Mike Hadreas, shirtless and with a black eye. It's as evocative an image as the Strokes wearing leather jackets and Velvet Underground t-shirts or Animal Collective wearing tribal masks. The songs on Hadreas' full-length debut are eviscerating and naked, with heartbreaking sentiments and bruised characterizations delivered in a voice that ranges from an ethereal croon to a slightly cracked warble.
Perfume Genius is a strangely perfect name for Mike Hadreas' music. Like scent, his songs are delicate but strong, faint yet persistent, and have a deep, almost inexplicable emotional pull. On his debut album, Learning, Hadreas comes across like the kid brother of Antony Hegarty or Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart, taking the vulnerability of a singer/songwriter to an extreme with messed-up and heartbreaking stories.
Learning, the debut outing by Perfume Genius, is a rare paradox: an album that is swimming in its creator’s compelling back story and yet seems to have sprung out of nowhere. By now, anyone who has heard the record has undoubtedly been intrigued enough to seek out the biographical details of the band’s lone member, 20-something Seattleite Mike Hadreas, who returned to his mother’s home to record the album after a misspent, self-destructive youth. Though he is vague on the exact details—intimating either personal experiences with or direct observations of drug addiction, abuse and suicide—Learning bears the distinct weight of a young life spent in a too-close proximity to any number of horrors.
The back story of Mike Hadreas, the man behind Perfume Genius, reads like something out of a teen lit novel. After years spent dealing with drugs, depression, suicide and abuse, Hadreas sequestered himself in his mother's Washington home and recorded the 10 piano-driven songs that would make up his debut album Learning. Learning itself is wholly indebted to that subject matter, dealing with it in plain and stark language, with Hadreas's vocals only accompanied by pianos and organs and other manner of keys.
Music as intensely intimate and cathartic as Perfume Genius' begs for close inspection, as quirks that stave off solipsism tend to reveal themselves over repeated spins. Unfortunately, on Learning—the bedroom-recorded debut from Mike Hadreas—further listening amplifies a lack of songwriting prowess to support the emotional trauma that makes up the heart of the album. Although Hadreas certainly has a knack for detailed lyrical couplets, he's woefully unable to shape interesting ideas into consistently compelling songs, cutting off his ability to engage as deeply as some of his more advanced peers.
The current wave of bedroom pop has been more about the druggy pulsations of an insulated childhood rather than honest-to-God songwriting; sure Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms is a hooking record, but it wouldn’t necessarily be accurate to say it hits an emotional chord, nor does it try to. The scene is defined by forcing upbeat electro through a low-rent filter, resulting in some oddly danceable sounds, casting aside lyrics for mantras of “Feel it All Around” or “Should Have Taken Acid With You. ” That’s not the case for 26-year old Mike Hadreas who, despite having all the trappings of a chillwave up-starter, instead uses his solo-project Perfume Genius to create some of the most sadly sincere songs we’ve heard all year.
A truly disarming debut of open-hearted melancholic splendour. Mike Diver 2010 To attract attention in a crowded marketplace, the most common practice is to make a lot of noise. In the music industry, this means as much pre-release hype as possible. It’s long been a predictable process – even the outsider can see that if Band X is being raved about rapturously in January, their June-released record is likely to find favour in those same right places.