Only Perfume Genius could conjure a fairy tale from these troubling times. No Shape documents deep lows and the most glittering of highs; harsh and lush in equal brush strokes, Mike Hadreas’ fourth album celebrates the raw strength it can take to break free and find a new normality. The Seattle musician is beloved for his radical, intimate documentation of depression, drug abuse and enduring homophobia, and his three previous albums grew from spectral vulnerability into powerful, confrontational frustration. Three years later, No Shape steps out as Hadreas’ brightest and most lavish record to date but, as in all the best fairy tales, it’s haunted by as many ghosts as it is populated by princes. Darkness lurks on the fringes and seeps through the cracks between Hadreas’ intricate melodies.
Slip Away, the album’s first single, is a thrilling, urgent anthem that unfurls like a sunrise: 'Don’t look back / I wanna break free,' Hadreas urges, '…if we only get a moment, give it to me now.' Just Like Love waltzes through raindrops as the lyrics illustrate a towering, toxic love that 'smothered them with velvet,' and Go Ahead draws on the sparsity found on Hadreas’ older records, using a simple, driving drum beat to reinforce crisp vocals which tell of triumph and vengeance. 'If you need, you can even say a little prayer for me,' he offers over innocently tinkling bells.
Unabashedly romantic, No Shape documents (mis)adventure and vulnerability, charting self-growth as it searches for comfort – Die 4 You is a naked, woozy, trip-pop ballad, while Sides invites Weyes Blood to contribute elegant, morbid harmonies: 'Baby, cut the cord and set me free.'
The centrepiece of the record, Wreath, is a semi-title track dedicated to fluidity. 'I wanna hover with no shape,' he muses. 'I’m gunna call out every name until the one I’m meant to take / sends a dove.' A whirling, spinning, breathless testimony to Hadreas’ unique vision and aesthetic, Wreath sparkles with power, beauty and truth.
Perfume Genius’ magic lies in transforming struggle into folklore, mythologizing a daily endurance against patriarchal bullshit. These are vital hymns to unite and strengthen, and his press release states in no uncertain terms that Hadreas intends to change your life. It feels an almost outdated artistic intention in pop’s current economic climate, but this revolution isn’t necessarily one of grand gestures. Alan – the album’s closing lullaby – comforts, soars and then slips away, asking, 'Did you notice, we slept through the night?'
Listen to: Slip Away, Wreath, Alan
Buy Perfume Genius - No Shape on LP/CD from Norman Records