Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

The music Mike Hadreas makes is simply beautiful.

Label: Organs

Rating: 9

‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ is unlikely to win over the people who didn’t like the first Perfume Genius album. Let’s get that out of the way: It doesn’t diverge wildly from the template Mike Hadreas set with ‘Learning’; but, the people who didn’t like it were just plain wrong anyway. We know that isn’t how opinions tend to work, but this is a special exception.

If you’re not already acquainted with Hadreas and Perfume Genius, a primer: he performs emotionally intense ballads in measured tones, voice occasionally cracking for dramatic effect. His music is sort of like that of Anthony and the Johnsons, only without the pretentious performance-art aura, or annoying vocal tics. He is brilliant.

Like ‘Learning’, most of the songs on ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ are built around Hadreas’ skeletal piano lines. This album, however, adds some sinewy muscles to the frail body of Perfume Genius; drums help to build crescendos or slowly pound as punctuation marks, strings and ambient noise heighten the drama. Hadreas’ voice reveals new versatility, too. While his usual fragile vocals could perhaps mistaken for lack of ability, on ‘Take Me Home’ his voice unexpectedly soars towards the end of a verse, a show of his singing ability and intelligence to restrain its use to great effect.

A major comparison, on the title track and ‘All Waters’ especially, is the music Angelo Badalamenti composed for David Lynch’s cult TV show Twin Peaks; spooky, low-key synth notes stretch out, or melodramatic strings play, behind Hadreas’ vocals, slow and breathy, not unlike those of Badalamenti collaborator Julee Cruise.

Keeping with the Lynch comparison, with ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ as Twin Peaks, that would make Learning Hadreas’ Eraserhead. ‘Learning’ was the more primitive, lo-fi, and emotionally raw document, and, whilst this album doesn’t quite trade in day-glo soap opera colours, it does benefit greatly from increased production values (and fidelity).

‘Haunting’ is a word that’s often used to describe the music Perfume Genius. But that isn’t quite right. The songs aren’t quite harrowing, or disturbing, in the way that, say, former touring partners Xiu Xiu can be. No, the music Mike Hadreas makes is simply beautiful. ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ at times deals with the more downcast end of the spectrum of human experience, but that’s not exactly new in the realm of brilliant music. Which this is! Perfume Genius is worthy of the hype, and the hyperbole: this is a fantastic record.