#3 – The first word that comes to mind when I think back to Perfume Genius’s Put Your Back N 2 It – compassion. It is one of the most compassionate albums I’ve heard. It was a revelation in 2012 and it returns to me every time I need it, moments of fear, or depression. It’s simple, sighing songs are often filled with ugliness and misery, but also beauty and deep empathy. The first word that comes to mind when I think of his follow up, Too Bright – power. It was evident from the single “Queen,” a surging psych rock carnival ode to queer provocation, that Hadreas was reaching for something harder and more resilient.
In his recent interview with Wondering Sound, Hadreas identifies the muffled, cloudy ambient sketch “I’m a Mother” as an attempt to locate an ancient avatar of strength: “So many women musicians I love seem to be part of some divine, mythical figure — Lillith, or some kind of demon — whatever. Like Diamanda Galas, when she’s just singing in tongues, I was trying to figure out where that would come from for me. So I created one, and it was me.” “Don’t Let Them In,” one of the album’s quiet highlights, paints a scene of Hadreas trying to keep away “well intended” visitors, over sleepy piano chords. Midway through, the song shifts into a gorgeous waltz as he slips into a dream that seems to find him in the guise of another power figure, some “deep ancient queen”: “An alternate ribbon of time / My dances were sacred / My lisp was evident / I spoke for both spirits.”
The recurrent theme of bodily disgust in Hadreas’s work finally reaches a head with the murky, skeletal “My Body.” “I wear my body like a rotted peach,” he mutters and coos over drone and creeping organ. “You can have it if you handle the stink.” But there’s strength even to be drawn from that gap between the ugliness of the body and the splendor of the self. The queen of “Queen” is “cracked” and “peeling,” and “riddled with disease,” sick, haggard and revolting but still luminous and incredible, like the holy queers of a Genet novel.
Hadreas pushes his voice to new extremes alongside the music. When the pulsing, Suicide-style “Grid” builds into a climactic frenzy, his soft voice becomes a primal scream, howling with some combination of anguish and wild triumph. Too Bright’s title track is its emotional climax, a subtly devastating piano song, building eventually into a gorgeous wash of voice, synth and squealing screams (or is that a horn?) After teasing his range with his first two albums, Hadreas could have made an album full of songs as maximal and immediate as “Queen,” but instead he’s expanded out from that bedroom sound with incredible restraint and taste, building songs that are even more intricate and challenging.
Too Bright is an excellent album, but at the moment, I don’t see myself attaching so emotionally to it the way I did to his last record. And that’s not really a bad thing. In that interview, Hadreas notes the importance of the opener “I Decline”: “It’s a voice in my head all the time, and sometimes I kind of give in to it. Sometimes I’ll see a good path and a bad path, and I’ll decide that they’re both too determined. So I kind of just turn them both down. I can see the patterns I’m stuck in, the ways I can potentially get better, and I just — don’t.” I can relate to that. Like George Costanza, I’m a great quitter. I often find it deeply satisfying to give up and admit my own weakness. The melancholy solace expressed by an album like Put Your Back N 2 It is a very addicting thing, but wallowing can become a trap. The songs on Too Bright are searching for power, and demanding much more than a comforting embrace.