Google has a knack for knowing a lot more about us than we want it to. When the site flagged an album teaser showing Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, embracing another man for “promoting mature themes” and not being “family safe,” it underlined many of the social taboos that the artist tears at in his music. In the song featured in the clip, he wonders if instinctual fear will always be a part of gay public affection.
Hadreas looks ugly things straight in the eye on the album Put Your Back N 2 It. Every very few songs, delicate vocals and simple lyrics, piano, and strings unsettlingly carry some heavy material, and it’s pure chills. He gives dignity to those living a non-normative life, whether that is the queer experience or alternately, the darkness of drug addiction, depression, and prostitution.
Some of these experiences are (hopefully) distant for most listeners and they become uncomfortably intimate. If there’s an acoustic road map for his songs, it’s the reverbed piano that plods toward and then away from a vivid crescendo. These turns give his music the same elegiac tone as artists like Youth Lagoon, a similarity not lost on Hadreas. “Should I organize a duel with youth lagoon where we meet at sunset and brush each other’s hair?” he tweeted.
The gloominess of the listening experience is relieved by a resilient humor and by the short punch of an album that takes about 30 minutes to listen to and a few days to digest. “17,” written as a gay suicide letter, turns into something of a spiritual affirmation. In a guide to the songs on the album, Hadreas notes that sometimes queer teens need depressing songs just as much as they need the “it gets better!” videos that don’t get flagged on YouTube.