Pruning next month’s concert calendar for the not-to-be-missed
“And I will carry on/ I will carry on with grace/ zero tears, zero tears on my face”
Perfume Genius’ songs hobble forward, the scene of trauma they are leaving just barely visible in the distance. Doleful, naked piano and tender vocals drag each other onward in turn. The air is more melancholy than most music dares to even approach, and yet, as promised in “No Tear”‘s closing verse, there is not the slightest trace of self-pity to be found, nor a request for any.
“No memory/ no matter how sad/ And no violence/ no matter how bad/ can darken the heart/ or tear it apart,” a delicate tremolo lulls in “Normal Song.”
Mike Hadreas, the Everett, Washington-based artist behind the Perfume Genius moniker, truly seems to believe in such emotional resilience, though his music at times sounds as if he didn’t.
His sophomore album, Put Your Back N 2 It, seems, upon first listen, to reveal a very dim inner world. Sunlight, usually in the form of a recognizable chord progression lifting into a major key, does occasionally penetrate its tracks, but the rays are always fleeting, quickly obscured by whatever billowing forms momentarily let them through.
Remarkably, however, this continual frustration never gives rise to angst; Hadreas seems genuinely unfamiliar with the attitude. His voice, registering somewhere between the effeminate twang of Arthur Russell’s and the caressing intimacy of Elliot Smith’s, will quake with excitement with each upswing, then falter, then settle acceptingly back into the depths of a dirge, and so forth until the song’s abrupt end.
Biographical excavations deepen the poignancy of Hadreas’ stark songwriting. An openly gay man recovering from a meth addiction, the artist has many a reason to be mournful, which makes the underlying hopefulness of his songs all the more moving.
In “All Waters,” Hadreas yearns for a day “when I can take your hand/ on any crowded street/ and hold you close to me/ with no hesitating.”
As though for some sort of perverse poetic impact, YouTube effectively trampled the song’s plea for a more accepting world by removing an ad for Put Your Back N 2 It that featured the song, on account of its being “non family safe.” The video showed Hadreas and male porn star Arpad Miklos in a tender, non-nude embrace.
This apparently scandalous embrace might as well introduce a final question for the time being: what, exactly, is Perfume Genius putting his back n 2? The phrase connotes heavy lifting, perhaps construction.
Indeed, this is as good a visualization as any for what Perfume Genius achieves in his noteworthy album. From so many ten-ton emotional bricks, Hadreas constructs a sort of edifice – a shelter. Rather than presenting it as a monument for pity, he invites the listener inside – a caring invitation, a gesture of hospitality. “I will take the dark parts of your heart into my heart,” he sings on “Dark Parts.” For anyone who has ever felt his/herself “non family safe” and suffered for it, the album is something like a good, long hug.
Perfume Genius ought to receive a warm welcome from San Francisco. His performance is a definite must-see.
Cults (4/4 at Great American Music Hall · Tickets ; 4/5 at Slim’s · Tickets)
Sleigh Bells (4/5 at The Warfield · Tickets)
Girls (4/11 at Bimbo’s 465 Club · Tickets)
Train (4/12 at Bimbo’s 365 Club · Sold out – start Craigslisting!)