Written By: Hayley Mierzwa
Mike Hadreas, the solo artist known as Perfume Genius, has graced us with a remarkably visceral new record, No Shape. The Seattle-based musician has released several records, dating back to June 2010 with his debut album, Learning. This newest record features intimate lyrics and music so incredibly delicate it sounds like breeze could dismantle the entire creation.
On the subject of creation, “No Shape” opens with the song “Otherside,” which sounds like some kind of celestial explosion, perhaps a big bang of emotion. The track moves into the album’s first single, “Slip Away,” which also has explosive moments, but gives an overwhelming sense of liberation (“Don’t hold back / I want to break free”). You get the feeling that Hadreas is about to show you all that he is (“Take my hand / take my everything / if we only got a moment / give it to me now”), and you would be right in feeling that way. “Just Like Love” makes it clear that the album is going to make strong connections between sound and emotion, as the slow, rhythmic heartbeat of the song is paired with growling guitar layers – which sounds just like love.
Moving away from the explosive and heavy beginning of the record, the next two tracks feel a bit minimalistic. The intro to “Go Ahead” features a beat with an unclear tonal center, but quickly become a well-crafted base for the lyrics, which sound like some kind of dare (“Go ahead and try”). The simplicity of the music seems to imply some kind of mastery that Hadreas is daring someone to match. This feeling continued into the next track, “Valley,” which reinforced my impression that there was something of a challenge being presented – a challenge to achieve a certain purity.
Another track in which the composition is particularly intimate is “Every Night,” which its gentle clock ticks and lyrics offering a peek into the mind of the speaker. The lyric, “Nothing has moved for some time / still I’m up,” solidifies the feeling of stillness often associated with being awake in the middle of the night. A sliding string feature, ethereal as the first celestial sounds of the record, is a great pairing with the high, floating harmonies prevalent throughout the album. The track “Sides” also offers up sonically what it implies by title – edgy synth lines that takes on a variety of sounds (at one point they even sound a little like a tuba), and a bass line with a funk sound drops in after the addition of some female vocals around the halfway mark.
The album begins to round itself out with some delicate vocal flourishes in “Braid” and “Run Me Through.” Quick, multi-note lifts and falls jammed into one beat are presented nearly breathlessly, but with great precision. To end, Perfume Genius leaves us with the track, “Alan,” an emotional song about his long-time partner. Having already explored many feelings, we are left with a very simple reaction to what might be some of the most complex emotions with the lyrics, “You need me / Rest easy / I’m here / How weird.”
No Shape is a musical representation of things we have all felt at one time or another. Perfume Genius is letting us know that many of us think alike – we are scared, we feel love, we are sometimes confused, and we strive to be better.