It's always best to approach albums with a 'back story' carefully, because let's face it, it's the sort of stuff that people cook up to sell records. Looking at the promo shots of Mike Hadreas, half naked with his beautiful face and ugly bruises, it's clear that there's a tale behind the release of Learning, which is his debut recording.
His bio reads like an Antony and the Johnsons musical. Hadreas was a troubled guy, wrestling with his sexuality and his inner demons. To get some perspective he squirreled himself away in his grandma's house, locked himself in with a piano he couldn't even play, and began to confess his sins to an empty room.
It's no coincidence I mention A & T Js here because Hadreas's open, wounded vocals are pitched right alongside his. But what makes this confessional, basic album at moments enchanting is the fact that from the first bar of music, you can tell that he is 'the genuine article.'
Of course, to be expected of someone who is just starting out, it can be rather clunky. 'Learning's' childlike naivety remains unsurpassed by only one thing: its inexplicable warmth, which is odd when compared with its dark subject matter. 'Mr. Peterson' tells a story of a teacher's homosexual tryst with a disconcertingly young subject: 'he let me smoke weed in his truck... he made me a tape of joy division. When I was 16, he jumped off a building.' There's no attempt to conceal anything within knotty metaphors, it's just laid out in front of a plodding piano and left for your consideration. In a similar vein is 'Write To Your Brother,' an aching plea to a friend. Not since Daniel Johnston has someone so effectively conveyed such wide-eyed innocence.
But it's the second half of the album which really shows Hadreas' potential as an artist. The gentle, haunting fuzz which ascends upon 'No Problem' and 'When' gives the songs a layer of wistfulness and they paradoxically seem more formed, less brittle than the first handful.
It's doubtful that anyone, not even Hadreas himself, will be able to create a moment like this again, something this unrefined yet so enthralling. But he has a unique voice and is able to render the most leaden sadness without straying into self pity. His career awaits expectantly.