Album review: Perfume Genius – No Shape

John Preston

Perfume Genius continues to contort the lush, gothic and occasionally brutal sound that surprised many on his 2014’s release, Too Bright. Mike Hadreas’ fourth album, No Shape, finds the openly gay American singer-songwriter in a different place this time around. There may be epic inclinations with the album’s astonishingly self-possessed glam-rock first single ‘Slip Away’, but other than this track, the truly bombastic force of this and Too Bright‘s unapologetic highlight ‘Queen’, is not repeated again here.

No Shape, then, finds Mike Hadreas in a state of surprised contentment and in a long-term relationship. The album’s themes are queerness, sex, love and a difficulty in acclimatising to this first sustained period of emotional stability in the singer’s life. Unsurprisingly, this new stance and related experiences also bring a degree of peace and, although many of the arrangements found here are still florid and unpredictable, this is a first for a Perfume Genius record.

Preceding ‘Slip Away’, ‘Otherside’ opens the album with piano cords and Hadreas’ distinct drawl on a song that seems completely in keeping with his earlier chamber-folk discography – but look out for the jump scare. ‘Otherside’ vividly explodes somewhere in its first minute and provides an unexpected thrill-jolt to the system that simultaneously invigorates and terrifies. No Shape’s first half goes on to be altogether more energetic and playful than its slower, more macabre second part.

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‘Go Ahead’ might have the record’s best melody and its rumbling, electronic RnB come-organic instrumentation is inventive and swaggering.

‘Just Like Love’, with its darting arabesque strings and beautiful and airy flirtations, celebrates a young effeminate boy’s lack of self consciousness immediately before the world starts to initiate its gender rules and judgements ‘sleeves cut just off the shoulder, you are christening the shape – for a child you walk’. It’s moving and powerful, much like the twirling and bejewelled child of the song, because it’s also so personal.

On ‘Sides’, Hadreas devotes large parts of the song to Weyes Blood graceful, elegant vocals, they sound almost interchangeable, like siblings, on what could be a Prince-like sister song to the album’s earlier and poppiest moment No Shape.

‘Die 4 You’ is a minimal, dark contemporary R&B track that would be at home on either a Drake or The Weeknd record – a Lana Del Rey feature would be inevitable. The video is an obvious homage to early Madonna – which is no surprise really – and Hadreas continues to push her gender politics and dalliances with numerous sexuality dress-ups that will still irritate, offend and threaten many.

Mike Hadreas brings the record to a close with a dedication to the man who has been with him for the past eight years and with profound effect: Alan Wyffels. Simply entitled ‘Alan’, it is a hazy, dream-state ballad which foreshadows the upcoming musicality of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and the suspended beauty of Angelo Badalementi’s soundtrack. The refrain of ‘how weird!’, incredulous and almost pained, is used in response to two situations. The first is that they both sleep soundly all through the night. The second that Hadreas is still there, embracing intimacy and acknowledging the impact that each has made to the other’s life.

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Any concerns that a more happy Perfume Genius would result in a less engaging and creatively restricted artist go thankfully unfounded and No Shape is as assured, odd, and oddly optimistic, as hoped.

About John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.