The clean break. A tangent few junkies, miscreants or outcasts ever taste. A line you must follow for all those who were never afforded the chance. Even after Mike Hadreas’s redemptive 2010 compilation Learning thrust him even further down his new path, those old demons resurrected, ready and willing to burnish his dark side to an onyx shine. Temptation is a bitch. Especially when you’re touring with the likes of Beirut, being bombarded with questions about your homosexuality and just trying to keep your now very vulnerable head afloat in a sea of doubt.
All this emotional ammunition was loaded into the chamber pop warmth of his sophomore effort. An album that stands apart not only in evident terms of the revealing lyrical content, but in its plaintive style. Piano is the instrument he trusts most to guide him through a broad panorama of concern. Its moral compass is tuned only to the tender pulls of his reconstructed heart.
Of course there had to be a little controversy before this ship even set sail. Innocent and honest ruminations on full disclosure framed newly-minted single “Hood.” Sure the video may star brawny gay porn star Arpad Miklos embracing Hadreas like a newborn calf, but compared to most of the sexual images/innuendo were exposed to everyday, this seemed downright pedestrian. So when YouTube pulled Matador’s 15-second “pre-roll” (those annoying ads that play before the video) ad featuring clips from said video for violating its Adult Image/Video Content Policy they responded in kind: “They’re worried about upsetting unsuspecting viewers that don’t want to see two men looking romantically at each other.”
Opener “AWOL Marine” begins with a deep sigh and a few simple minor key chimes. Soon veiled textures of reverb roll through like a dense fog refracting the rays of light gleaming off the soft key tappings. All of that looming melancholy is washed down with a gulp of fuzz that cuts to nothing mid-frame. A soothing aperitif for a twelve track feast.
"No Tear” is a simple yet expertly crafted ballad. A reflective scalar piano climb is a simple enough melody to construct. But if you show its strength to support sudden vocal inflections, deathly still snare slaps and drowned out choral accompaniment; that foundation becomes a bedrock for self-righteousness.
For those of you familiar with the work of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Dirge” will sound awfully familiar. It’s always fascinating to hear poets read their own work and imbue it with their own cadence and syllabic emphasis. “Boys that held him dear/Do your weeping now” is sung with such harmonic precision, that you’d be borderline soulless not to pause whatever you’re doing not to let a momentary chill creep down your spine.
His mother, who helped set him on this path, always wanted him to write something a little more upbeat. We can thank her for “Dark Parts” which stands alone on the album supported by triumphant piano and even more epic bass drum rumbling beneath all its hazed out glory. Once all the arrangements fade away, we’re left with Hadreas resolutely repeating “I will take all the dark parts/Of your heart/Into my heart.” A moving contrast to a few momentary glimpses of artful bombast.
The only thing lacking here is length. Some of these songs are just too short to pack the internal wallop intended. But that could be Perfume Genius’s coup de grace. Unveiling vast pockets of sorrow in tiny musical niches.