Perfume Genius - Too Bright - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Perfume Genius - Too Bright

by Justin Pearson Rating:9.5 Release Date:2014-09-22

Four years into an already solid output, Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius is back with his third, and best album yet. Confident, exhilirating, loud, angry, and dark - Too Bright is clearly the home-run that the confessional Hadreas was warming up to bat out of the park after 2012's excellent Put Your Back N 2 It. The ball has landed, and with quite a thud. 

This time around, he's taken the best of himself and his piano, something he only hinted at previously, all the while exploring different sounds and finding his authentic self in the midst of it all. It would be unfair, however, to slap him with the cliche of 'taking risks'. If opening up your songwriting and letting it bloom like a wildflower is a risk, than Hadreas must be in real danger here.

He's obviously not scared though. Each track is a weapon and piece of armor in equal measure as the defiant one man army of Perfume Genius confronts his demons, and the world in general. In terms of style, it's a lot different than what we've been accustomed to with his previous work, but you can sense his often high-heeled feet know exactly what they're stepping in, and with such a fearless leader at the helm we can only trust where he takes us.

'Queen' is destined to be the queer anthem that's looked back upon in 40 years as summing up an era when the gay marriage debate raged: "Ya know, that song that rubbed the ridiculousness right out of hetero attitudes by rubbing an equally ridiculous homo attitude right back in their faces?" He stokes the fire of gay stereotypes and owns the flame when he sings: "No family's safe when I sashay." No need to be mistaken after this one, cuz he's not messin' around.

On 'My Body', you can hear a weary Hadreas awakening and rising up in a dark, tribal incantation as he "struggles for air" and invites you to have his body if you can "handle the stink". He wakes up completely on 'Grid', with screaming guitar and girl-chorus primal chanting that paves the way for an unsettling howl, making it clear he's the one in control.

The same isolated, introspective space that Tom Waits exuded on Closing Time's 'Lonely' can be felt on 'Don't Let Them In', especially in the upward reach of the lines which follow each pronunciation of "Don't let them in", beginning with "I am too tired..." Each subsequent line further clarifies the wall he's building around himself. This seems to be a song about reparation and moving on in the face of past demons - even if "well intended" - that are trying to come and "rattle some deep, ancient queen." It's one of the album's most gorgeous, heartfelt tracks.

Things get downright scary with the funeral waltz of 'I'm a Mother'. You can imagine Hadreas trapped in a haunted house submerged under water as his vocals are dragged through a slimy seaweed. His voice is so warped and freaky it's almost impossible to make out any lyrics other than the opening line: "Down here I'm a mother." Is he terrified of drowning in a watery grave, or is he revelling in the release of sadness and anger? Most likely some kind of metaphor, but impossible to turn away from.

The title track 'Too Bright' is a culmination of everything he did well on his last album, resulting in an achingly beautiful piano ballad augmented by a crying, almost screaming in its urgency to be heard string moment right at the end. It's hard not to shed a tear yourself as he pounds his heart out on the keys, each pause and swell undulating with pure emotion. The yearning in his voice is palpable as he delivers the lines "I'll try", "I'll stay", and ultimately, "Too bright" before the song closes. It all feels like a shining, moving declaration to keep the sun from setting. Whether his own inner light or the orb we see in the sky, you just feel thankful for having experienced it once the song itself sets.

It's hard to offer a criticism on a record this good, but my one selfish wish is that a few of the tracks were longer. However, I will digest these delicious crumbs he's offered us and savor them each time. I've already listened to it enough to have had a few full meals anyway, so I should just shut up now.

You can see Perfume Genius on the album cover attired in shiny gold, looking squarely to the right with a serious expression. I see it as a stamp. It's safe to say he's earned the last half of his moniker: Genius.

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