Perfume Genius, (aka multi-disciplinary artist/musician Mike Hadreas) is notorious for his experimental ingenuity and whip-smart wit. But on ‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’, his fifth studio album, he’s turned in the most confident, compelling songs of his career.
Recorded in his home of LA and produced by Blake Mills, the title’s a nod to the level of feeling. Big moods only. And some big ideas too.
Whole Life’s wistful reflection/revelation (“half of my own life has gone...it was just a dream I had”) sounds like a death and an ascension all at once, as Hadreas sings “I forgive everything”. But these songs are as much about establishing boundaries as they are about getting free.
There’s a focus on the physical as a channel to ecstacy (erotic or otherwise) - like the deliciously Robyn-esque On the Floor: “The rise and fall of his chest on me....the violent current of energy”. (Check out the video for a writhing, mud-covered Perfume Genius acting out his farm-boy fantasies). ‘Just a Touch’, a paean to (fetishised, half-forgotten) tactile pleasure.
'Describe' swaggers in unexpected, all low-slung 90s guitars and Phoebe Bridgers vocal. Their words entwined, close and sensual, like whispers in the ear.
Exquisite arrangement is the golden thread that stitches it together. Baroque harpsichord on ‘Jason’ an ornate counterpoint to the unvarnished lyrics: “Jason undressed me, lying on his sheets / Even his boots were on... He ran his hands up me / Tears streaming down his face...”
Experimentation is deft and frequent too. There’s disorientation in overlapping time signatures, spectral slide guitars and shades of Liz Fraser in the vocalising. The Bjorky ‘Moonbend’ - the album’s most endearingly off-kilter moment, stalks the tightrope between askew and avant-garde.
Anthem-wise, does it deliver? When the self-conscious intro cracks, ‘Your Body Changes Everything’ exposes its true tenderness: “Can you feel my heart? Do you feel the same?” The playful switching of pronouns on ‘Nothing At All’ singing a glorious queer truth.
Disjointed? Slightly. But who cares. He’s conjured something mischievous and joyful. A record that feels like it’s been beamed in from a distant star, sounding something like a near and possible future.
Words: Marianne Gallagher
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