Friday, August 13, 2010
With each technological innovation, there seems to be a downside to match every advantage. This trend may be especially true when it comes to the music industry: though new methods of production and distribution give a greater number of people access to a greater number of artists, there is real concern that with more quantity comes less quality. But while the path has been paved for the mediocre artist, it has also been made easier for the unassuming yet wonderfully talented craftsman, the kind of musician who answers to an internal compulsion to create, rather than any desire to make it big. Seattle-bred Mike Hadreas, alias Perfume Genius, is definitely among the latter.
His debut album, Learning, released this past June, is exquisite and intimate, with sparse, spectral piano arrangements and echo-laden vocals that prove to be hauntingly compelling. Hadreas' delicate handle of piano keys is reminiscent of Sam Beam's loving hold on his guitar; and the softness of his voice shares some of Sufjan Stevens' magic. And just like these two accomplished musicians, Perfume Genius crafts incantatory, poetic lyrics that are sure to stay with you long after the speakers have fallen silent.
The record is deeply melancholic, and lingers on moments of great sadness or solitude. "Mr. Petersen" artfully draws listeners in on the details of a teacher-student relationship before unexpectedly veering toward the tragic: "He made me a tape of Joy Division/ he told me there was a part of him missing / When I was sixteen / He jumped off a building." The suddenness of the eruption of tragedy is brutal, granted. But it is honest, and it is true.
That taste for content that is real and raw finds its formal reflection in Mike Hadreas' choice of recording locales - his mother's house, on her piano. According to him, you can hear her dogs running around on some of the songs. It is this earnestness, this lo-fi intimacy, that makes Learning so captivating. Of the set of songs, Hadreas writes: "I truly intended to show them to my friends and leave it at that. But I didn't - and left all the music the same even though it's sort of a tricky feeling. I am just a hippie, that's all. I have faith that I really fucking meant it, that if I go back and mess with them I'll lose that."
So here's to Perfume Genius and his willingness to let us in on an album that is somewhat naked, despite any "tricky feelings" he might have had. Learning is marked with a sense of open-heartedness that is truly exceptional. This genuineness, coupled with the acute beauty present in every crevice of every song, transcends the melancholy, ultimately offering a cathartic, uplifting musical experience. Learning makes for an extraordinary listen, shimmering with authenticity and hinting to the enduring good health of the music industry.
Melany's grade: A