6 May 2017

Perfume Genius - No Shape (album review)

Mike Hadreas tackles homophobic prejudices and difficulty with self-expression on his 4th album as Perfume Genius, and whilst it’s not his crowing jewel it’s certainly his most triumphant work to date. Mission statement Go Ahead serves as a middle finger to people who would dwindle Mike for being different. He asks “what you think? I don’t remember asking” over an awkward yet thumping drum beat which is embroiled with bouncy stuttering squeaking synth stabs. Mike sounds at his most empowered when he sings “you can even say a little prayer for me” possibly addressing religious people who are opposed to homosexuality.

No Shape pulls elements from 1980s synth-pop: on the track Just Like Love, which sounds like Soft Cell soundtracking a beach party. Hadreas addresses his younger self, or perhaps people like him being diminished for self-exploration through fashion, as he describes an outfit as “sleeve just cut off the shoulder” and “slick, sheen so bright” Hadreas assumes the role of an assuring guardian angel on encouraging the people in question to stand up for themselves. “When it happens again/baby hold on and stare them down” and “smother them with velvet”, Hadreas sings, the imagery on these lyrics is so beautiful you can literally imagine a Young Mike smothering these people in pastel coloured velvet imprisoning or even enlightening them to prevent there wrongdoings.

The reticent keys on first track Otherside quickly interchange into an explosion of euphoric noise which becomes a motif on the album. This song flows seamlessly into the lead single Slip away, which upon repeat listens becomes one of the most beautiful pieces of music this year. A perfectly arranged pop song that’s a hybrid, much like the previous track it’s a cocktail of minimalism and glorious maximalism. Hadreas himself said this track is inspired by his favourite film Dogfight in an interview with NPR Music; “The ending is kind of bittersweet, but so real and moving and complicated” he said.

Wreath kicks off with these LCD Soundstyem All My Friends style keys, but progresses into a song with a completely different feel. Mike sings about leaving his body and becoming a wreath; “burn off every trace, I wanna hover with no shape”. The song is surprisingly upbeat, despite its heart-shattering meaning which is driven by impossible aspirations.

The euphoria of the first half of No Shape begins to fade once you get to the song Choir, which is probably the most comparable to Perfume Genius’s last record Too Bright. Hadreas' eerie vocals sound like they are echoing through the rapture on this string driven cut. The vocals on this song come out as a mere mumble; “something keeps me locked and bodied pawing at the edge”. It's a dramatic realization of there being no escape from your own body.

No Shape’s instrumentation is brimming with sonic ideas previously only briefly unexplored in PG projects. There is strings and guitars scattered all around the project it’s certainly a departure from the minimalist balladry he has been renowned for. The highlights of the album however come in it’s quietest moments. Die 4 You (good Prince reference that) in true Prince style has a sensual sound, but this is the only similarity. Hadreas sings about asphyxiation in a whimsical falsetto which might just have resulted in one of his best songs to date.

The album’s final moment Alan is it’s most harrowing, although the lyrics of this song are just paying homage to Hadreas’ boyfriend, it feels like it is shrouded with an enormous cloud of sorrow so when the record finally shatters into the silence, then you really feel alone.


(Word: Aimee Armstrong)