Few artists can make the type of immediate and lasting impact on their listeners as Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius can. I still remember the first time I saw him perform live in 2015 at a small outdoor festival in Chicago. Mike was dressed in jean shorts, a striped shirt and had dark red lipstick exquisitely painted on his face. His presence was undeniable and the moment he began his set and let his voice wash over the crowd, we were all sucked in.
Four records into his career Hadreas continues to be as powerful a personality as ever. His newest release, No Shape, goes on to refine his sound with grander compositions that finally seem to be catching up to the star singing them. This isn’t to say that his previous work wasn’t as affecting, but with this bigger sound the power behind his vocals really starts to shine.
Opener ‘Otherside’ fools us at first with its simple yet beautiful piano melody with Hadreas crooning about a possible revelation coming into view. And just as he’s coming to his conclusion the chorus comes crashing in with a wall of choir vocals and glittery synths. It’s a moment that announces Mike’s presence in a way that compliments rather than over shadows.
Same can be said of the first single off the record, ‘Slip Away’, which lyrically hits at some of the grander themes present on the record; “Don’t hold back. I want to break free, cause it’s singing through your body, and I’m carried by the sound”.
That feeling of being trapped within oneself and finding solace through these moments of grandiose emotion runs through the entirety of No Shape. And for the first time it feels like the songs are finally matching Mike’s words. Sure some hints of this sonic change could be found on his previous release, Too Bright, but while good in its own right the production by Adrian Utley (Portishead) felt almost suffocating.
By contrast the production on No Shape, which was handled by Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes), finds a nice middle ground of punchy drums and beautiful synths that lend themselves well to the unshakeable vocal work. There are some moments of quiet, like on the tracks ‘Every Night’ and the closer, ‘Alan’ but even these tracks manage to find new and interesting paths for their piano leads to go.
However, it’s the ‘big moments’ that truly steal the show here; the piercing strings on ‘Choir’ and the stunning guest appearance from Weyes Blood on ‘Sides’, in particular, showing that No Shape is Mike’s most sonically diverse collection yet.
Although there’s a slight feeling of stagnation and deja vu when it comes to the lyrics, the vocals are enough to carry you over. But despite this minor shortcoming, No Shape is a stunning move forward for Perfume Genius.
No Shape is out on May 5th via Matador Records.