Perfume Genius, Too Bright

Sam Lefebvre

By Sam Lefebvre

on 09.23.14 in Reviews

The music video for “Queen,” the lead single from Too Bright, Seattle-based songwriter Mike Hadreas’s third album as Perfume Genius, depicts gender fluidity and queer sexual identity as a bold affront to the straight world. In one scene, a purse-lipped Hadreas clad in heels infiltrates and enlivens a stiff conference room. The delectable central lyric, “No family is safe/ When I sashay,” encapsulates Too Bright‘s confrontational core. Diverging from the theme of enduring and coping with pain that marked Perfume Genius’s first two albums, Put Your Back N 2 It and Learning, Hadreas’s combative lyricism reflects in Too Bright‘s music, which features expanded instrumentation, golden melodies and harsh dissonance.

Very intimate, with a varied sonic and emotional palette that creates a richer listening experience

Hadreas’s earlier material tended to fizzle where it now erupts. Likewise, there’s now closure, where Hadreas’s lyrics once struggled to find resolution. Together, the advances make Too Bright a more dynamic and rewarding listen. “No Good” and the title track begin with the restrained piano used frequently on his first two records, but both songs build to dramatic, shimmering endings. On “Grid,” ambient playground shouts and buoyant keyboard lines carry resplendent melodies. “My Body,” where gurgling bass collides with synth blasts, sounds like Hadreas wrestling with the anguish outlined in earlier work. Bridging the song’s two clashing sections is Hadreas’s voice alone, a deep inhalation to garner strength and persevere.

Hadreas’s voice remains the focal point, though he’s discovered more ways to use it. Whether plaintive, lilting, squealing or ferocious, Hadreas’s newfound confidence results in a more rigorous command of his main instrument. During blissful, vocal-saturated passages, Hadreas harmonizes wonderfully with himself. With little to no accompaniment, his vocal lines ascend upward in pitch with nuanced flourishes at their melodic peak.

Too Bright feels very intimate, like earlier Perfume Genius albums, but the varied sonic and emotional palette creates a richer listening experience. The album confronts listeners with more than Hadreas’s vulnerability and suffering — it radiates the gall to defeat it.