Perfume Genius' 'Too Bright' casts a strikingly subtle shadow
Solo artist Mike Hadreas releases third LP
Album: Too Bright
Artist: Perfume Genius
Label: Matador Records
Release Date: Sept. 23
Perfume Genius’s third LP, “Too Bright,” despite the short 33-minute runtime, is a work of a rarified, exquisite beauty and scope – unafraid to experiment with how an album is constructed.
The album, produced by Portishead’s Adrian Utley, incorporates Mike Hadreas’ haunting vocals with a fine-tuned minimalist production to create a layered, nuanced album that attempts to break gender and genre lines.
“Too Bright” illustrates the expansion of Perfume Genius’ musical range. In prior albums, a piano or guitar functioned as the central instruments within his music. In “Too Bright,” however, Hadreas creates other musical forms.
The first single off of the album, “Queen,” is driven by heavy drums and a multi-faceted layer of oscillating production – far from the gentle piano riffs Hadreas is known for.
“Queen,” one of the most lyrically flamboyant tracks on the album, tackles the core themes of the album.
“Don’t you know your Queen?” Hadreas sings. “Ripped, heaving. Flowers bloom at my feet.”
Hadreas, never one to shy away from controversial issues, comes out with a strong statement on “Queen,” reimagining gay stereotypes as not a weakness, but rather, a threat.
But the quality of “Too Bright,” shines not in the arresting flamboyance exhibited on the album, but in the ingenious subtleties.
In “Fool,” Hadreas finds power not in thorny, twisted stereotypes, but in the simple and understated.
“I carry their names, the secret shapes,” he sings. “An aching braid around my heart. Traced in the park, an outline I chalk.”
For Hadreas, his pleasure is not found in the ostentatious. He finds it in the fact that he doesn’t keep intimate secrets anymore – he can hold a lover’s hand without needing to hide from society.
In the following fifth and sixth songs, “My Body” and “Don’t Let Them in,” the true genius of “Too Bright” is realized in the balance in production, lyricism and showmanship.
“My Body” is a song that audibly starts and stops, constantly. It starts with a pulsating vamp, drowned in distortion. The song gradually cycles between this isolated distortion created in the beginning and vocals interweaved between these noisy outbreaks.
Eventually, this constant blend between noisy and silent fades together, and the strange, strangled track is left with no distinguishable division points.
In “My Body,” Hadreas sings about not being able to handle himself and being disgusted with himself. He wants to escape his own body – it’s a painful and desperate song.
It is filled with distortion – representing the mental angst Hadreas is experiencing.
Yet on the very next song, “Don’t Let Them In,” Hadreas switches back to his beloved piano-centered format with listless, floating vocals permeating the song. The contrast between songs is striking and obvious.
Lyrically, the division between songs is less evident.
“My dances were sacred, and my lisp was evidence. Don’t let them in,” Hadreas gently croons on “Don’t Let Them In.”
“They’re well intended / But each comment rattles some deep ancient queen.”
He’s singing about longing but at the same time feeling trapped and isolated in his own body.
On “My Body” Hadreas sings: “I wear my body like a rotted peach, you can have it if you can handle the stink.”
There is a level of nuance in “Too Bright” that is best exemplified in the album name. Sometimes blinding, sometimes pitch black, “Too Bright” is an album that is about balance – between flamboyance and subtlety, silence and loudness, pleasure and pain, introversion and extroversion.