Last year, Mike Hadreas, better known as Perfume Genius, helped form the beautiful centerpiece of Welsch singer Cate Le Bon’s under rated album Mug Museum, dueting with her on the fluttering ballad “I Think I Knew.” Hadreas’ quivering voice is a beautiful instrument that can teeter between wounded and redemptive often in the same song, and his role in the track served as the perfect complement to Le Bon’s milky soprano. His new record as Perfume Genius Too Bright uses his natural talent to great use in a collection of shimmering ballads, percussive synth pieces, and the occasional droning dirge. Its 33-minute runtime feels way longer considering the wide ranging scope Hadreas projects in such a short window.
Too Bright is an examination of the body and how it’s perceived. On leading single “Queen,” Hadreas sings that “no family is safe when I sashay,” after describing himself as “cracked, peeling, [and] riddled with disease,” among other things. In ways, this album’s release is perfectly timed with Facebook’s recent persecution of drag queens. Elsewhere, like on “My Body,” Hadreas voices the pain of the trans person – “I wear my body/I go bottom/struggle for air/I go humming ‘Like a Prayer’”, underneath brooding bass and bursts of searing synth. On “No Good,” a beautiful daydream of cascading piano follows the lyrics in which Hadreas mourns a moment where he took another man’s hand in a park – a fleeting moment of lost love perfectly illustrated between words and music. Another timely occurrence coinciding with this record is the return of Kate Bush to the stage after 35 years. This is purely coincidental, but the fact that Bush has been in the news lately is fitting considering how much a record like this encaptures the spirit of Hounds of Love with its mixture of delicate piano, warped voices, and out of nowhere vocal samples, all of which form a frame around Hadreas’ trans plight to great effect.
What’s an important factor on this record is the resilience of the character singing these songs – many of them are pleading and melancholic, but they’re not for the need for love from one person. “I don’t need your love…I need you to listen” are the last words on “All Along” which is more or less what Hadreas is saying the entire time. “They’re well-intended/But each comment rattles some deep ancient queen,” he sings on “Don’t Them In.” Too Bright is a record that’s not about entering the conversation, it’s about hearing out the situation and better understanding it.