For his fourth album under the pseudonym Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas returns with another glittering album that’s packed with a unified sense of empowerment. With an array of influences from the likes of Kate Bush, Portishead and even Xiu Xiu, No Shape sounds as bold as it is artistic.
When listening to a Perfume Genius record one can expect an abundance of slow heart breaking ballads with a vast amount of delicate, and on occasion, experimental instrumentation. Where it could be suggested that this sound is hard to stretch out over the course of many albums without sounding repetitive in subject matter and tone, Mike Hadreas has defiantly proved this not to be the case. On his short lo-fi driven debut Learning it was evident that Perfume Genius had potential, with a distinctive song-writing style and soft but commanding voice. This was then carried over onto a better range of instrumentation on his sophomore album Put Your Back N 2 It. Then came the diverse and experimental Too Bright, featuring a pop inspired single in ‘Queen’, slow piano led ballads, and some experimental electronic tracks such as ‘Grid’ and ‘Longpig’.
Thankfully, it appears Mike has done it again, for No Shape is another step forward and clearly stands as the best in his discography so far. Like all of his work under the name Perfume Genius, Mike continues to use his sexual orientation as a primary theme on No Shape. Facing a series of difficulties growing up homosexual, Mike now a successful artist at 35 years old, uses a lot of his songs as a way of serving as a comforting and supportive voice to young people in LGBT community. This is achieved in an uplifting tone on the track ‘Just Like Love’ for example, where Mike tells the listener not to pay attention to others who look down on what you wear, in fact he exclaims ‘give them every reason / for child you walk’ which transitions into the smooth and lushes chorus of ‘just like love’. Not only does Mike ease the anxiety of the listener, he urges them to be as bold and as confident as possible, telling the listener to ‘hold on and stare them down’. The lead single ‘Slip Away’ is another prime example of this. The track opens with little instrumentation and fast paced vocals of ‘don’t hold back, I want to break free’ before exploding into a chorus Explosions in the Sky would envy, Mike provides an anthem for people wanting to express a forbidden love.
The second single, ‘Go Ahead’ was perhaps an odd choice, for it features an off-kilter beat lacking catchiness or excitement to promote the upcoming album. Lyrically however, ‘Go Ahead’ makes sense in the overall narrative of the album. In fact Mike himself has described the song as “telling everyone that they can try and come for me, but I’m already gone – that they can pray for me, but I’m already with God’. And with this in mind the odd instrumentation makes sense and places Mike in charge of the song almost intentionally trying to make the people who oppose him feel uncomfortable.
Alternatively, it may have made more sense to go with ‘Wreath’ for the second single. This track undeniably has the qualities needed for a successful single, one that would fit very nicely on a running playlist. The lyrics suggest an acceptance of mortality and expresses the desire to live life ‘until my body gives away / and shuts up’ with the fast-paced production and charismatic guitar riffs to match. Additionally, the track also contains a fitting Kate Bush reference in ‘Running up that hill’, which isn’t the only time another artist can be heard, either intentionally or unintentionally.
No Shape offers a mix of old and contemporary sounds that form a diverse yet cohesive sound pallet across the album. For instance, the edgy and almost apocalyptic sounding ‘Choir’ can be compared to the works of Xiu Xiu or Arca, whereas the following track ‘Die 4 You’ sounds reminiscent of something Portishead could have made in the 1990’s.
Furthermore, No shape also contains a feature from singer-songwriter Weyes Blood, which was a joyful surprise if you’re listening to the album on Apple music where she is not credited. Sorry if you think I’ve spoiled that for you but I’m going to assume that you already knew Weyes Blood is on the album if you’re up to date enough to read this review. The track’s theme is fitting to its title ‘Sides’, for Mike and Natalie portray two sides of a failing relationship. It is easy to see why Mike asked Natalie to play this role as her voice compliments his own perfectly to the point where I am wanting more features from Weyes Blood on Perfume Genius projects in the future. However, the last three tracks following this are somewhat underwhelming. They are by no means bad, simply they offer little else to the album. ‘Run me through’ for example has pretty vague lyrics unless you look them up on Genius, but even after discovering the meaning behind the song fails to make a significant difference. The closing track ‘Alan’ is also a little disappointing as it has simple lyrics that are nothing too inspiring or deep despite being addressed to Mike’s companion.
Overall, No Shape is Perfume Genius sounding his most self-actualised, further demonstrating why it is so important for artists to experiment and attempt to evolve their sound, for it can lead to brilliant albums like this.