Perfume Genius – No Shape Review 

Seattle based songwriter Mike Hadreas reached new heights with 2014’s Too Bright. His new sonically charged sound would have easily been album of the year in a typical year, but 2014 was packed full of outstanding albums. In a way, this meant the album didn’t get the full attention it deserved. With his fourth album No Shape, he can go on to truly grab everyone’s attention. Though it featured a greater sonic sound, the album was still quite cold and distant in places (which was perfect for the album Mike was crafting), but with a different musical mindset and a new producer in Blake Mills (John Legend, Laura Marling and Alabama Shakes) a greater shift in sound could be facilitated. That is something that artists like Mike Hadreas rarely pass up. 

 ‘Slip Away’ was the first single from No Shape  which sees Mike take another leap to his next musical destination. Shifted and distorted metallic beats open the song, chiming and meandering gently before the song explodes into a burst of sound and vibrancy. Pounding beats, shimmering electronica and the crashing of cymbals fire you into the next phase of the song from which a sudden pitch shift stems the tide of volume. This gives him license to fire in and out of this soaring and quaking sound. His quivering and poised vocals hold strong against the vast sounds and well placed backing vocals carry the song through its abrupt transitions and drive through the aggressive delivery of the instrumentation. It is only fitting that a song defiantly asserting identity is so bold and charged. From this track at least, Mike has effectively strapped a rocket to his sound of three years ago and it sounds truly wondrous. ‘Go Ahead’ is a muffled and distorted in its opening beats whilst Mike’s closely recorded vocals guides the song along across complete drops in sound, which make a big impact despite the understated sound. On the second verse, well placed pitch shifted beats and gradually the song takes on shimmering effects whilst remaining at ease with its tone; never feeling the need to break out. A well disciplined track. 

The album opens beautifully with Mike’s delicate vocal alongside a trickling piano. At his word, this sound expands and soars as if an M83 with greater purpose and melody. The sheer difference between the closed sound of the limited piano and the soaring expanses thereafter are stark and gracefully executed. ‘Wreath’ is a track with instantaneous rhythm from the shuffling synths and beating percussion. There’s a charged, distorted buzz from the tracks production that makes every simple guitar strike a bold theatrical event in the songs progression. It never speeds up or explodes into a peak, but its constant bustling energy throughout and Hadreas’ eager, trembling vocals ensure you don’t need such a fix. ‘Sides’ is packaged in a wiry, Eighties rock aesthetic akin to the rough tones of Julian Casablancas and The Voidz, but here it is taken and mounded into a ballad. This isolates Mike’s vocals along with the sweeping backing vocals to deliver another typically showcase moment. The warping synths and vocals from Weyes Blood create a wonderfully harmonious, yet disjointed sound. ‘Run Me Through’ is a smooth song with chiming organs that allow for more excellent vocals and harmonies from Mike Hadreas. This eventually descends into an open, whirring soundscape that begins with light, yet gradually darkens before going to the next verse via perfectly place bass lines and percussion. 

These are the highlights from an album that does not shine as intensely as it appears on the surface. As always he produces some excellent intimate pieces of music verging on chamber music. Every track has a sweeping moition to it however, where his last album was deliberately more angular. Some of the arrangements and production choices here make for a graceful and naturally intense sound. Perhaps it did need a few more songs like ‘Slip Away’ but it is difficult not to get lost in the depths of what is simply a beautiful collection of songs. In some places the arrangements have echoes of Morning Phase from Beck, but in all there tends to be the scope for the odd production tweak to heighten the sound further. A different beast from Too Bright, but No Shape is a beautiful one at that. 

Perfume Genius – No Shape = 9/10

Owen Riddle

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