New band of the day – No 699: Perfume Genius

This bedroom balladeer writes haunting lo-fi lullabies that sound like angsty diary entries sung into a dusty old tape recorder

Hometown: Seattle.

The lineup: Mike Genius (vocals, keyboards).

The background: Perfume or Genius would have been great on their own, but calling yourself Perfume Genius was always going to secure this act's place here today, even if they had been impossible to justify musically. As it is, they, or rather he – and it is a he, a 26-year-old from Seattle called Mike who lives with his mum and sells furniture for a living – makes these really delicate, fractured little lo-fi piano ballads, adorned with synth strings, which he sings in a startlingly cracked, high, tremulous voice like Neil Young at his most desolate or the devastated Alex Chilton of Sister Lovers. It can feel a bit weird, like listening in on someone as they work out their depression by singing their angsty diary entries into a dusty old tape recorder.

Because of the way they're sung, or maybe because of the way they've been recorded, it's hard to hear the words, but apparently these are songs "of death and inadvisable sexual explorations". There's one called Gay Angels, which is as sorrowful as a funeral elegy where the lyrics become part of the overall droning mantra, but we can just about make out the single Mr Petersen, which has a disturbing homoerotic/paedophile undertow. "He let me smoke weed in his truck/If I could convince him I love him enough/Enough, enough, enough/He made me a tape of Joy Division/He told me there was part of him missing/When I was 16, he jumped off a building," it goes. As mere words on a page, it is striking stuff, but accompanied by sombre chords and with all the scratches and imperfections from what sounds like a long-lost straight-to-cassette recording, it really is quite haunting.

We love what one blogger wrote about him: "He sounds very young and thin, and plays a raggedy piano." He does sound thin – emaciated, all skin and bones, kept alive by these fragments of songs that he pieces together in the bedroom of his mother's house. He was discovered by Los Campesinos, and has been releasing demos and skeletal ideas via his MySpace since late 2008. There's a sense of pain being submerged or worked through in his music, emphasised by his trembling voice and the minor-chord melodies. "2010 could, and should, see this mysterious musician take Antony Hegarty's crown as the king of heartbreakingly emotive music," says one website, but he's not some pale, wan simp – the few interviewers who've met him say he's fun company, and he spent one article declaring his desire to "do" Natalie from US Big Brother 2008, the one who could magically lactate at will. He's signed to Transparent – "dedicated to unearthing and championing weird, brave, perfect and heartbreaking pop music" and the home of Washed Out and Active Child – and he makes these stylish though subtly strange videos from found YouTube footage to accompany his music. He sports a black eye on his MySpace and looks like an 1980s rent boy. It is, in the best possible way, twisted and sick. We've had chillwave – this is illwave

The buzz: "Alone at his piano he sings about sex and death like Sufjan with all the pep punched out of him."

The truth: He's a wasted face, he's a sad-eyed lie, he's a holocaust. And he wants to shag reality TV starlets.

Most likely to: Tell himself every night that he is the cosmos.

Least likely to: Lactate on demand.

What to buy: Debut single Mr Petersen is released by Transparent in February.

File next to: Sufjan Stevens, Xiu Xiu, Chris Garneau, Chris Bell.


Tomorrow's new band: Chiddy Bang.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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