Perfume Genius recently backed into unexpected —well, perhaps semi-expected controversy— when those sudden bastions of morality, YouTube, rejected a promo for Put Your Back N 2 It as "non-family safe." Which is corporate-speak code for "gay," basically. The footage —from the cheeky video to the single "Hood"— found 27-year-old Perfume Genius leader Mike Hadreas referencing the image from Lana Del Rey's "Born To Die" single, only in a shirtless clinch with swarthy gay porn-star Arpad Miklos.
The hypocrisy and prejudice is all too obvious, but if the video was designed to be a point of provocation, then Hadreas succeeded. On his second LP, there's more of a sense of defiant queerness; the guy who once mocked his singing voice as sounding like an "elf tranny" now singing with more confidence, both vocally and thematically.
It was with no small irony that the forbidden promo video was soundtracked by "All Waters," an ambient hymnal in which Hadreas suggests two men will only be able to hold hands, and each other close, in public "with no hesitating" when Earth has achieved planetary harmony. Recent Antony LPs —2009's The Crying Light and 2010's Swanlights— have been ambitious epics exploring queerness on a planetary scale, and whilst the comparison carries a certain weight, Hadreas doesn't have the same leanings towards operatic grandeur and adult-contemporary accessibility.
The Secret Diary of Mike Hadreas
As it was on Perfume Genius' impressive debut album, 2010's Learning, the songs here stick to forlorn piano figures and eerie washes of cheap-sounding synth; Hadreas big on mood over all else. A few moments do feel far more forceful than last time: the near-Sufjan-ish hymnal "Dark Parts" ("the hands of God were bigger than grandma and pa's eyes"); and the drum-and-choir-aided devotional "Take Me Home," in which supplication borders on subservience ("I'll be so quiet for you/look like a child for you/be like a shadow of a shadow of a shadow for you").
But mostly things tend more towards the ambient, the eerie, the uneasy. The specter of Angelo Badalamenti's work on David Lynch's infamous subversive soap-opera, Twin Peaks, forever lingers; from the moment opener "AWOL Marine" arises from the woodland mists like its own "Love Theme." Not coincidentally, Hadreas hails from Everett, Washington, where the series was shot; locations like Laura Palmer's house a fixture of daily life, the myths of the show seeping into the town's very milieu.
Lyrically, Perfume Genius still pulls from The Secret Diary Of Mike Hadreas; all stark, shivering confessionals filled with beauty, terror, transgression, and perversion, peeling away the polite veneer of smalltown American to shed light on its dark, shadowy, hidden truths. Where the infinitely-comparable Youth Lagoon used frail, washed-out piano ballads to summon nostalgia for summers past, Hadreas wants to create hazardous emotional places; he, too, has a song called "17," but here memories are filled with pain, less like bleached-out polaroids than scars on your skin.
Record Label: Matador
Release Date: February 21, 2012