Two and a half years since the release of his last, very well received, album ,'Too Bright', Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, is back with his latest release, 'No Shape'. 'Too Bright' certainly raised the Perfume Genius profile exponentially and brought his name further into main stream consciousness. His live performances at Glastonbury and Coachella have also undoubtedly brought him to the attention of a wider audience. To date however you'd still have to say that he's not quite 'broken through', still not a name everyone's (even those with a keen interest in all things musical) familiar with. The release of 'No Shape' should change that, or at the very least, help shift the perspective substantially.
'No Shape' still retains the unique identity that makes it as a Perfume Genius record but its elements, for a large proportion, are much more easily connected with. There is a, albeit left field and nuanced, poppiness to some of his new album that has a sublime individuality; both critically astonishing and commercially viable.
Where 'Too Bright' won its audience over with 'My Body' and 'Queen' (amongst others), 'No Shape' picks up the thread and develops it into a wonderful new tapestry of delicate, intense, intricate, elaborate and, above all, captivating songs for Hadreas's new thirteen track, forth album.
From the opener, 'Otherside', you immediately get the feeling that this is going to be something quite special. The vocal is gentle and sombre carrying a soft lament on barely there keys but then! Twice during one of the briefest songs on the album there is a magnificent explosion of shimmering sound; a spectacularly bright blast of audible light. The unexpected eruption cascades and dies as quickly as it arrived like the last firework from the best display you've ever witnessed and it is quite brilliant in every respect.
'Slip Away', the first single lifted from the album, follows on. From here on in is where Hadreas really starts to show a change in some of his work. Leaving the piano lead ballad firmly behind (for now) Perfume Genius leaps into a song of affirmation and positivity with trembling bass and fully charged percussive interludes that eventually result in a cacophonous end. 'Just Like Love' alters the mood again. Hadreas seems in a lighter, playful guise; freed of restriction and happy in his work. The angelic, string accompanied, chorus even has a touch of the David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti/Julee Cruise/Twin Peaks about it.
Similarly engaging, positively energised and immediate is another of the album's highlights, 'Wreath'. The whirr in the undercurrent of the score and the harpsichord lead arrangement never loses its fantastic momentum. There is a sense of real release here, a potency and power only suggested at before that is now allowed to breathe. 'Choir' is another track that takes an alternate trajectory to the Perfume Genius norm. The strings are frenetic, almost angry; pent up with a need to let go and give out. The narrative that Hadreas delivers is a perfect reflection; "I can't dream, something keeps me locked and bodied, pawing at the edge".
'No Shape' also has some more challenging, but no less enjoyable, moments for the listener. The off-set rhythms of second single, 'Go Ahead', are developed from a minimalist palette that Blake or Eno would be happy to call their own. Perfume Genius balances his vocal on the acute edges of the sparse arrangement; the fragility in his voice matching that of the instrumentation. There is a beautiful delicacy born out in the exquisite 'Die 4 You' and a great duet featuring Weyes Blood in the form of the atmospherically loaded 'Sides'.
Elsewhere on 'No Shape' Hadreas reverts to type with some super, slow, measured ballads in the form of 'Braid', 'Every Night', 'Run Me Through' and close out track, 'Alan' showing that whilst he's moved on he's still adept at giving up a devastatingly emotive track capable of shattering the hardest of hearts.
'No Shape' (a fluid, shape shifting triumph) is an extraordinary album from an extraordinary artist who is growing ever more confident in his performance and delivery with each successive album.
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