Mike Hadreas, the Seattle-based artist who performs under the moniker Perfume Genius, has had a relatively short musical career. His previous two albums, “Learning” and “Put Your Back N 2 It,” are marked by a fragile timidity – delicately crafted songs relying on a small arsenal of instruments, but with a very deliberate purpose.
Hadreas typically tiptoes through feelings of loneliness, introversion and helplessness that come with his life as a gay male in a world of bigotry, misunderstanding and stereotypes. Perfume Genius’ third album “Too Bright,” released on Sept. 23, is a massive leap in the direction of confident extroversion, symbolizing Hadreas’ personal growth and readiness to project bolder statements.
The album’s opener, “I Decline,” begins on a warm piano chord progression, reminiscent of the previous albums, before Hadreas declares “no thanks, I decline” to “the same old line.” Shortly thereafter, he rejects the soft piano, and launches into the pseudo-dancefloor anthem “Queen.” This song is gritty and driven, embracing the new power he finds in his self-identity.
A similar sense of aggressive confidence appears on songs like “Grid” and “Longpig” which also finds Hadreas foraying deeper into the world of synthesizers and jungle rhythms. This sort of raw emotion was always present within his discography, presented humbly rather than shoved in your face. If the juxtaposition isn’t obvious enough already, Perfume Genius’ celebration of his identity is beautifully represented in his exploration of a new direction in sound.
Despite his newfound sense of self, Hadreas does not sacrifice the tender, painful emotional expression he’s been recognized for. Instead of simply recycling his old style, he allows his brave, sonic exploration to permeate into songs that may feel more familiar to longtime fans. Songs such as “No Good,” “Don’t Let Them In” and title track “Too Bright” all bring a completely fresh perspective to his melancholic, minimalist style.
Hadreas has also ventured away from the washy, muffled production of his previous records. On “Too Bright,” the songs are extremely clear and (for lack of a better word) bright. In the past, Perfume Genius was content with channeling the lo-fi, meek moments akin to The Antlers or Elvis Depressedly. However, at the apex of songs like “Fool,” the vocals rise and swell to a soaring falsetto, as if Hadreas is howling in the face of everyone who’s scorned him.
As if his music wasn’t enough of an evolution, Hadreas has also presented his personal image as a reflection of his confidence. He appears on the album cover, his features sharp, bold and radiating outward. In the past, Hadreas has stated that he prefers to hide his face, whether it’s behind a mask or some other costume. There’s no evidence of any sort of fear within the art of “Too Bright.” Hadreas is brilliantly allowing his confidence to shine through all forms of his art, which has left listeners with yet another powerfully resonant album. Perfume Genius has unshackled himself from any limitations and proven that it’s impossible for him to shine too bright.