Perfume Genius – Ugly Season

An enriching cross-discipline endeavour...

Perfume Genius continues to mutate (sonically) with fifth album 'Ugly Season', showcasing another glorious side to his rich sound. Emerging more avant-garde with each release, Perfume Genius, also known as Mike Hadreas, is delving deeper into the experimental, dissolving his chamber pop foundations.

'Ugly Season' follows on from 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately' – a record about human connection, grounded in the bodily. In comparison, 'Ugly Season' feels ethereal, flung out of space and once again transcending the bodily like in Hadreas' third record, 'No Shape.'

Despite its celestial quality the record shines with a full-bodied, multi-layered sound, as instrumentation careers to the forefront of the album. An interesting change for Hadreas, the record uses lyrics sparsely, but carefully, with plenty of signature P.G. falsetto underscoring modified electric guitar, sweeping synths, and a smattering of piano.  

The project had its genesis as an accompaniment to choreographer Kate Wallis' immersive dance piece 'The Sun Still Burns Here'. As the pandemic loomed over the composed score, 'Ugly Season' got introduced into the digital sphere when Hadreas entrusted visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite with creating a short film – combining the recorded dance performance with 3-D animation.

The marriage of physical and digital is marvellously reflected in moments of the record, including the segue from the organic, music-box twinkle of track three, 'Teeth', to the electronic tint of track four – 'Pop Song'. The second single of the album, 'Pop Song's 8-bit intro makes way for sweet vocals that, upon listening closely, juxtapose lyrics of flesh and gore. The contrast creates a sort of pleasant unrest in the listener; building tension is something 'Ugly Season' does well.

Certainly, the mid-section of the album – beginning with track five, 'Scherzo' – builds pressure through dissonance. Something of an interlude, playful swathes of piano crash through composure, just begging to be (contemporarily) danced to. The album's lead single 'Eye In The Wall' also increases heart rates, but through a quickening of pace. "Give it up," Hadreas repeatedly insists, as Afro-Latino-influenced drums jostle to the front in this eight-and-a-half minute long track. 'Hellbent', erupts in a tense jazz frenzy with the energy of Kamasi Washington. "Hellbent, phoneless, belligerent Aquarius', Hadreas sings atop oscillating synths.

As the record winds down, the listener is aware that Perfume Genius is drawing back the curtains an extra inch with each eerie synth and stroke of rubbery guitar. Hadreas is allowing us to see his inner vibrations, and they're so very beautiful.  

'Ugly Season' is best digested as a whole concept. It demands focus, and if the listener isn't too careful, they'll miss the nuance found in muttered lyrics and a flicker of synth. Overlooking the majesty of Perfume Genius’ 'Ugly Season' feels akin to committing a mortal sin.


Words: Gem Stokes

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