Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: Matador
Seattle-based Mike Hadreas’ third album as Perfume Genius is a step forward for the project in almost every way. Too Bright boasts harder-hitting lyrics, more sophisticated arrangements, and his best-fitting production yet. Its musical successes are obvious in their immediacy and variety, which gives Hadreas’ career the critical allure of an arc, this latest release continuing a smart progression from Learning to Put Your Back N 2 It.
Beginning with his desultory 2010 debut Learning, Perfume Genius has delivered bedroom tales of sparse frankness. The back story of Mike Hadreas has been documented with each release. A gay man grappling with emotional and physical insecurities, such demons serving as muse, music as catharsis. With his latest, Too Bright, Hadreas has left those confines for a gleaming cabaret.
“No family is safe/When I sashay,” proclaims Mike Hadreas on Queen, the lead single from his truly excellent third album. For fans of Perfume Genius, it’s safe to say that they weren’t expecting such a confident and bold comeback tune. It’s certainly a stark change from the sparse ballads that got him this far in the first place. His first two full-length releases, Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It, are full of devastating stories wrapped up in serene and graceful arrangements, whilst his vocals are simultaneously beautiful and haunting.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It would be too easy to describe Too Bright as a radical departure for Mike Hadreas, otherwise known as Perfume Genius, yet there is the unmistakable air of an artist transformed this time around. Hailing from Seattle, this is the 32-year-old's third record and it marks the beginning of a realisation of his musical ambitions, and those ambitions can surprise and disturb in equal measure.
“If I could just be a lump, or a mist of smoke with eyes, I probably would be that,” Mike Hadreas recently told Pitchfork. “Just an energy, moving around.” His third record as Perfume Genius, Too Bright, doesn’t quite resonate with the concept of shifting energy, nor is it in any way “too” bright. But the title’s cutesy reinforcement of the word “genius” is an exciting indication of Hadreas’ burgeoning musical confidence.
The first line on Perfume Genius' third album, Too Bright, is a basic observation, one we've heard a million times in songs: "I can see for miles." Mike Hadreas, the Seattle songwriter behind the project, sings it over a spare piano, something that won't surprise people familiar with his music. The sentiment, though, is a bit unexpected: Hadreas has made a habit of writing powerful, intimate, and sometimes introverted songs that look closely at his inner life, warts and all, and at the inner lives of the people around him. These words find him peering outward.
There’s so much horror strewn across the first two Perfume Genius albums, it’s amazing it took this long for Mike Hadreas to scream. The strangled, faraway shrieks that split the thick synth bass on “Grid,” the second single from Too Bright, come through like the screams you find yourself letting loose when you jolt yourself out of a nightmare. If the first two Perfume Genius albums played something like nightmares—beautiful, full of danger, guided by pristine internal logic—then Too Bright is where Hadreas finally yells himself awake.
Some might say that art’s greatest, most therapeutic (and some might say only real) use is as a means of self-expression. For most, this means one simple thing – taking all of the hardships, worries, and insecurities in your life that make you feel small and helpless and spinning it all into something creative as a means to translate to others how you feel, and for many, art might be the only way they can do it. Listening to the work of Perfume Genius, a.k.a.
As Perfume Genius, American singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas has become synonymous with dark and emotionally heavy piano dirges that are as vulnerable as they are elegant. His third album contains many such songs, but also ratchets up the drama with help from co-producer Adrian Utley of Portishead, whose battery of vintage synths and creepy sound effects turns the underlying anger in Hadreas's beautiful ballads in bluntly confrontational directions. Flamboyance, in particular, becomes a weapon of intimidation.
Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, introduced ‘Queen’ by saying that it addresses “faces of blank fear when I walk by… if these fucking people want to give me some power – if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles – well, here she comes”. The artwork and accompanying publicity photos are similarly imposing, showing the 32-year-old looking stern in a sequinned vest and high heels. ”Don’t you know your queen/ Cracked, peeling, riddled with disease/ Don’t you know me?” Hadreas asks in its verse, confronting those fearful faces.
On Too Bright, Mike Hadreas' third LP as Perfume Genius, the Seattle songwriter attempts to move past his fragile, capricious style to release his most straightforward collection of songs to date. Bringing in Portishead's Adrian Utley to produce and PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish to play drums, Hadreas veers away from his introspective gaze into something chillingly honest and sometimes confrontational on tracks like the raw "Queen" and the sparse "Fools. "Although Hadreas still utilizes piano and guitar as his main songwriting bases, he's incorporated digital chimes, Albini-esque drum beats, realized song structures and countless quirky musical-earworms into Too Bright.
To listen to I Decline, the opening song on Too Bright, or the title track itself, you’d think little had changed in the world of Perfume Genius. Mike Hadreas sings with patient, melancholy sweetness over stately piano notes and a sepia wash of strings, as he did on his two previous releases. But in the spaces between the sedately familiar resides something glittering, defiant and avowedly queer.
We knew Mike Hadreas, better known by his fragrant alter-ego Perfume Genius, was good but we didn’t realise just how good he was. It’s possible he didn’t know himself. His first two albums delivered consistently gorgeous, melancholic pianoy-acoustic ballads floating somewhere between Rufus Wainright and a sombre Flaming Lips which, make no bones about it, were very good, especially on Put Your Back N 2 It; but with Too Bright he’s taken one of those occasional steps up an artist makes, the ones that make you stand back, clap in delight and say 'oh, NOW I get it.
Every year deserves a keyboard record crying out to be performed in a concert hall instead of a club. In 2014, Perfume Genius's Too Bright is that record. The songs here may vary in tempo and orchestration but they all sound as coiffed, sheeny, and slick as Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) looks on the cover. When "Queen" dropped as a single for this record, he hinted at a record which would be regal while steering clear of the grandiose.
Searching for the right perfume is a process that takes flippin’ ages. First there’s all the trawling round department stores, rapidly waving silly little cardboard sticks. Then there’s the risk of allergy attached to every sniff, and the likelihood of smelling like a confused bowl of potpourri. For his third album as Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas seems to have found what the fragrance-marketing people might refer to as his ‘Signature Scent’.
Perfume Genius's first two albums are nothing if not forceful, marked by highly dramatic, despondently naked songs that might seem sappy were they not so intent on exploring uncomfortable psychological terrain. It's challenging and deeply felt music, but the lo-fi aesthetic and aggressively confessional approach leaves both 2010's Learning and 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It sounding formless and inapproachable, steamrolling any attempt at differentiating between emotional registers. That changes on Too Bright, in which Mike Hadreas suddenly pivots toward crafting catchy, palatable songs which, while retaining similar lyrical themes, now operate with far more flamboyance and panache, granting the album the feel of a second debut.
"Queen," the anthemic single released earlier this year by Mike Hadreas (a.k.a. Perfume Genius), is one of the most compelling songs the Seattle indie-pop artist has written. His ambitions are even greater on his third album, which demands attention in a way his quietly heartbreaking music hasn't in the past. The pathos of "My Body" uses noises that verge on industrial, and the pitch-shifting of "I'm a Mother" is ominously surreal.
opinion bySAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint > Earlier this year, I wrote for PMA about “Queen,” the debut single from the third full-length by Washington-based singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius. There, I discussed the way Hadreas has used an aesthetic that reads as “soft” – each song a little sigh, their understated arrangements and hushed vocals washed out with their own echoes – in order to lull listeners into a sense of false security which Hadreas then manipulates, now playfully, then cruelly; now horrifyingly, now tragically.
When Perfume Genius—the solo project of piano-playing songwriter Mike Hadreas—first caught attention for the 2010 debut Learning, the wide-spread praise centered around Hadreas’ stark lyrical content. Drawing on years of drug addiction and personal turmoil, Learning’s home recording-style only added to the immediacy and personal nature of the music—the songs couldn’t have been more spare unless they were sung a cappella. Follow-up Put Your Back N 2 It, released in 2012, had little choice but to expand on his sound.
Seattle’s Mike Hadreas spent the best part of his first two full-lengths under the Perfume Genius moniker - 2010’s Learning and its 2012 follow-up Put Your Back N 2 It - finding ways to weather and draw strength from humanity’s darker moments. Romantic and sexual abuse, substance dependence, pedophilia, prejudice, dysmorphia - all crop up across both suites, backed by a musical aesthetic whose neo-classicist tendencies, often skewed my modern means, resemble faded daguerrotypes of emotion too resonant to be forgotten. As a lyricist, Hadreas has always been daring.
At the start of Perfume Genius’ third full-length album, Mike Hadreas sings in a thin, but unbreakable voice: “I can see for miles/the same old line/no thanks, I decline.” It’s an immensely personal moment, like the listener has been dropped, uninvited, into someone else’s most intimate thoughts. And because this is just the start of Too Bright, there’s nothing else to hold onto—the walls are smooth, the room is empty, and there’s no one in it except you and Hadreas. The discomfort here is difficult, but captivating.
Perfume Genius — Too Bright (Matador)Really, there was no way Mike Hadreas would have been able to maintain what he was doing on Learning. As great as his debut under the name of Perfume Genius was, it was great in a claustrophobically intense, harrowing, sometimes fragile kind of way. Songs like “Mr. Peterson” and the title track depicted horrendous things, even if they were doing so to tell the story of surviving them, and the intense focus of the music just drew the listener closer in.The nearest the brief album came to dynamic variation was substituting hymnal synthesizer washes on tracks like “No Problem” for the near-solo piano of most of the album.
In some ways, Perfume Genius' intimate, unflinching balladry reached its logical conclusion on Put Your Back N 2 It. On that deceptively gentle collection of songs, Mike Hadreas' songwriting gained more agency while opening the door to possibilities that he explores to the fullest on Too Bright. With the help of Portishead's Adrian Utley and PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, Hadreas marries his razor-sharp observations with omnivorous music that gives him even more range.
Microaggressions are so called because they barely even register in the minds of the aggressors. They’re the embedded, subliminal ways in which dominant groups – without intent or malice – inflict their dominance on marginalised groups, and make them feel their “other”ness daily. For some, it’s the use of loaded language that’s not explicitly offensive but marks out a difference: think back-handed compliments, or well-meaning observations that belie underlying prejudices.
It's difficult to say that Perfume Genius' previous albums, Learning and Put Your Back N To It, shied away from dark places and didn't have a certain abrasive edge to them. Certainly, the latter of those albums possessed a romantic wistfulness to its lyrics and melodies that complemented the light, rippling piano that echoed Chris Garneau and even Sufjan Stevens. Too Bright however, is an album of bleak riposte and forthright personality, not quite aggressive, but certainly blunt and infused with the energy of social defiance.