Perfume Genius: ‘Too Bright’ Album Review

You might know Mike Hadreas, also known as Perfume Genius, as that one gay guy who creates soft-spoken records, sings at a just above a whisper and makes you cry yourself to sleep while re-living the most heart wrenching moments of your life. Well, you can forget most of that when you listen to his newest album, ‘Too Bright’.

Hadreas is back after two years and armed with an arsenal of frustration, cheekiness, cynicism and a demand for acceptance. He is based out of Seattle and has released two albums prior to this one. His first was in 2010 (Learning) and his second was  in 2012 (Put Your Back N 2 It). Both were very well put together, consisting primarily of tender piano ballads, raw vocals and lyrics that were almost uncomfortably honest yet brave. Particularly brave was their demonstration of solidarity for the unaccepted and downtrodden, specifically the LGBTQ community. The new Perfume Genius is no longer alright with feeling cast out by society.

On ‘Too Bright’ his demeanor is playfully menacing, his songs are more aurally complex and less structured and his vocals are more dynamic in range and ferocity. For this album, Hadreas got a lot of inspiration from the work of PJ Harvey. Evidence of this is found in his ‘I’ve-had-enough’ songwriting and in the overall musical atmosphere. John Parish, known for his work with Harvey, actually played drums on many of the tracks on ‘Too Bright’. On the producing side, Adrian Utley of the Trip-Hop group Portishead added his own twist to the album, creating something slightly more digital but blending it with the acoustic foundation that Hadreas has always been comfortable with. The result is a sonically explorative and socially commanding album that demands attention for itself.

The piano ballad “I Decline” opens the album in a way similar to Hadreas’ prior work, but the way he states, “Angel just above the grid / Open, smiling, reach out / That’s alright / I decline,” you can tell something has changed. The album centerpiece, “Queen,” has a slow heavy beat and wailing synths. There’s a moment in that song in which he declares, “No family’s safe / When I sashay.” At this point change is evident. He has been utilizing, “This [whole] man-dressed-as-a-woman-dressed-as-a-man thing” and the video features Hadreas in an all-white suit and makeup, pushing the comfort-levels of men at a business meeting.

Fool” shows off a funkier, more upbeat melody and gives the listener a hint of the upcoming grandiose of this album that is reinforced in songs like “My Body” and “Grid”. Although his previous work was harshly sincere in its storytelling, ‘Too Bright’ takes that honesty to different place and gives the listener insight into Hadreas’ full range of emotion. In an interview he described his previous work as “mid-tempo Adele songs, carefully plotting each chord and lyric like math,” and although he has always made candid songs, on ‘Too Bright’ he let loose creatively, emotionally, and musically. On “Don’t Let Them In,” he takes a moment to explain, “[He] is too tired / To hold [himself] carefully” and lets the song evolve from a familiar melancholy piano ballad into a reverb soaked flutter of pianos and cellos. “Longpig” sounds like an epic sci-fi film with layers of evocative synths and reverb-y 80s drums and is followed by “I’m a Mother” which is a dark, almost disturbing journey, with unintelligible vocals that sound like someone singing falsetto through a deep voice changer. The variety on this album is staggering when compared to his older work. The album closes with “All Along” on which Hadreas’ bluntly states, “I don’t need your love / I don’t need you to understand / I need you to listen.”

It’s clear that something has changed in the psyche of Perfume Genius and that change has had a huge effect on his music, which is easy to understand, seeing as Mike Hadreas has always left next to nothing off-limits emotionally. ‘Too Bright’ is a beautifully recorded and written album that is overflowing with creativity, variety, spirit and pure emotion.