Perfume Genius makes another BIG statement with No Shape.Matador Records, 2017
8.5 / 10
Mike Hadreas has consistently grown his Perfume Genius project album-to-album. 2014’s Too Bright took him from a humble indie pop songwriter to the VOICE of his community, the queer community. Hadreas’ song, “Queen”, was such an aggressive anthem that it felt as though Hadreas was literally in your face singing. Homophobes and traditional families were not safe. They had to accept Hadreas and all gay people as living among them. Or as Hadreas put it best in “Queen”, “No family is safe when I sashay.”
I’d like to think that many fears and bigotry toward homosexuals has since become a thing of the past in the three years between Too Bright and No Shape. However, humanity never fails at being shitty. This doesn’t stop Hadreas from fighting though, and he makes another BIG statement with No Shape.
Maybe he doesn’t do it so much lyrically this time or even aggressive, but No Shape is home to his biggest songs yet. Hadreas experiments more than ever as he brings a multitude of genres into the fold to create anthemic singles. Hadreas worked with producer Blake Mills on the album, and they jam pack this thing with beautiful arrangements. Many of which deliver constant surprises.
Album opener, “Otherside”, is a prime example. “Otherside” begins with a gentle tenderness that you don’t immediately expect after his previous album and its hit “Queen”. Why aren’t you going big, Mike? We know you have it in you. And then, an explosion of choral melodies, seemingly shimmering from the sky above. Almost angelic; a warmth passing over Hadreas’ singing. Mike emphatically answers the question.
While Hadreas’ lyrics aren’t as direct or concrete as on Too Bright, his songs never lose their impact. Hadreas’ piano sounds as frail as ever and comes together beautifully with the electronic and sometimes orchestral flourishes. Hadreas’ focus on No Shape seems to be giving more shape to his songs, fleshing them out with more personality that you can’t ignore. “Go Ahead” uses a funky, throbbing beat for much of its early runtime before transitioning into something more ethereal. Hadreas’ singing is almost reminiscent of Prince as he taunts observers to try something or quit staring all together. While not always on the attack, sometimes the instrumentation does this for Hadreas. A hornet’s nest of violins opens “Choir”; Hadreas’ vocal melodies crying out into the night. Then, the song makes another switch into a dark spoken word narrative.
No Shape makes it difficult to pick a favorite song; though, many of them work best in the context of the album than apart from each other. Still, the album isn’t without its stand-outs like the back-to-back pairing of “Die 4 You” and “Sides”. The always reliable Weyes Blood guests on “Sides”, a song that projects an enchanting Twin Peaksy phantasm. “Die 4 You” is a sensory overload of sexual desire. While both songs are excellent, they fail to match up against “Wreath”.
On “Wreath”, a stabbing electronic melody meets with Hadreas’ sparse piano. “I see the sun go down/ I see the sun come up/ I see a wreath upon the grave,” he sings sounding almost like Tom Petty with a menacing guitar snarl present during this chorus. The song recalls themes found on Arca’s recent self-titled album about ridding yourself of your body. On Arca’s “Piel”, he sings about removing his skin. Both men are gay, and they obviously want to feel more comfortable in their bodies. Some of this discomfort is brought on by the world we live in. Albums like No Shape are trying to change it for the better.