Under the moniker Perfume Genius, Seattle singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas put forth his second album “Put Your Back N 2 It” in response to a modest but hungry audience. Hadreas began writing music after moving from New York to Washington’s suburbia to live with his mother, which prompted the creation of his first album “Learning.” Now on to his second release, Perfume Genius has gained some experience by initially supporting acts such as Beirut and now headlining his own North American tour in support of “Put Your Back N 2 It.”
Preceding his latest effort, Hadreas’ debut album “Learning” emerged in 2010 as a breathtaking collection of trauma and delicate desolation. Despite the album’s intensely personal nature, its endearing frankness and integrity established an engaging connection with a narrow but resonant audience. The compelling intensity of raw emotion is skillfully preserved in Hadreas’ second album, but “Put Your Back N 2 It” embraces a collective sentiment that creates a more accessible, inclusive sound.
Throughout the two albums Perfume Genius maintains a forthright approach to a hodgepodge of sensitive issues such as sexuality, prostitution, suicide, and depression. While the musicality of “Put Your Back N 2 It” generally sticks to its predecessor’s style of simple instrumentation, Hadreas’ second album bears a slightly more polished production. “Learning” upholds an impression of distant and rough isolation, and the album’s tenderness stems from Hadreas’ themes of personal experience. At times “Learning” delves too deep into the darker side of things, leaving little room for optimism in the face of such despair. Hadreas’ second offering still explores the shadows of depression, but he also proposes the possibility of hope.
Lasting just over 30 minutes, “Put Your Back N 2 It” includes 12 short but compact songs. “Take Me Home,” one of the album’s standout tracks, undertakes the perspective of a prostitute accompanied by mild pop theme that sways back and forth, evoking a hazy sensuality that is at once hypnotizing and disconcerting. Through this viewpoint Hadreas examines the process of self-destruction and the loneliness of barren relationships. When the vocals finally abandon the track, listeners are left with echoes of empty pulsation.
Hadreas is openly gay, and many of his songs explore the issues of young gay men by focusing on concerns such as relationships, body image, and societal integration. The relatively upbeat track “Hood” considers the self-deprecating nature that can sabotage relationships. Perhaps the most poignant track of the album, “All Waters” delivers a passionately desperate supplication, appealing for a world in which Hadreas and his boyfriend can hold hands in public without fear or shame. The lyrics “When all waters still, / And flowers cover the earth” suggest that Hadreas’ hesitation may never fully disappear.
In spite of Hadreas’ preference for darker themes, the singular style of Perfume Genius’ second album demonstrates a tender collectivity for those who are simply trying to keep things together. Above all “Put Your Back N 2 It” offers hope for the individual and the whole, however faint it may seem.
(Caity Valley / firstname.lastname@example.org)