Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It – review

{Organs / Turnstile)

Imagine that Lana Del Rey weren't a pert-lipped caricature of a woman, singing songs about low-rent love, but a young man. You might land upon the appeal of Perfume Genius, a singer whose blacker-than-noir accounts have the tang of reportage about them.

It's true, Perfume Genius's songs don't pout and grind like Del Rey's, despite the hip hop reference in the title of his second album, Put Your Back N 2 It. His tunes are often (very) basic lo-fi piano and guitar confessionals that recall obvious forerunners like Elliott Smith, the crackly Bon Iver of For Emma, Forever Ago or a less angelic Antony Hegarty.

Mike Hadreas, the 30-year-old Seattle-ite who is Perfume Genius, hasn't had anywhere near as much attention as Del Rey, of course. His most recent video, for "Hood", was apparently rejected by YouTube for being too adult-themed to be prominently advertised across the site, featuring as it does two men in their pants (the video is still viewable on the site, though). One of the men in pants is a porn star. But rather than putting his back into it, Arpad Miklos is tenderly brushing Hadreas's hair. Celebrity fan Michael Stipe weighed in, castigating YouTube's reticence.

Hadreas pretty much deals in the repercussion of the tainted, chemically altered love glamorised by Del Rey. The press that accrued around his own first album, 2010's racked, redemptive Learning, focused on Hadreas's drug-and-drink-fuelled past. An attempted seduction by a teacher who later killed himself was recounted candidly on "Mr Peterson". Hadreas recorded Learning while living with his mother, whose own traumas he has been unafraid to explore. As he says on this album's "Dark Parts", "I will take the dark parts of your heart into my heart". Hadreas may be writing from an outsider perspective (well, as far as that term is understood by heterosexuals), but his reach is wide, bearing witness and dispensing succour to lost souls of all stripes.

The process begun by Learning reaches its next station of the cross with Put Your Back N 2 It. Moving on from harrowing reportage, it's a little more oblique, focusing on hope and a feeling – not pride exactly – that is the opposite of shame. One song is about holding hands. That's not to say there aren't people doing soulless things to feed addictions here. You barely want to think about what the "Awol Marine" is getting up to. But there is more grace and artistry to Perfume Genius this time around. "Dark Parts" is fairly specific about what his grandfather might have done to his mother, but it is an elegant gospel of compassion that recalls early Sufjan Stevens.

"No Tear", meanwhile, features pitch-shifted backing vocals, inverting Hegarty's trademark sound. "I'll be a shadow of a shadow of a shadow for you," sings Hadreas on the tremendous "Take Me Home". He is talking about the exchange of anonymous sex for drugs, but also the self-annihilation of "true" love. Hadreas's arrangements might still feel underdeveloped at this stage, but give him time. There is a compelling talent here, turning his damage into something noble.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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