Matador, Sept. 23rd
By Josh Hughes
“Too Bright” is first and foremost a confessional burst of self acceptance and extroversion. Take either of Mike Hadreas’ first two LPs under Perfume Genius and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything as musically disturbing as “My Body” or as flamboyantly anthemic as “Queen”. On his third outing, his demons about sexuality and identity seem as close to conquered as ever, yet they’re still the most prominent theme of the record. It’s the equivalent of someone shyly in the corner writing thought provoking-poetry standing up and shouting in your face. The blend of his older work is scattered throughout, but “Too Bright” is a tour de force of personal anecdotes and violently hopeful songs that resonate because of their inability to go unnoticed.
Opening song “I Decline” finds Hadreas denying the sentimentality of ‘seeing for miles’, ending without conclusion. It’s his typical two minute piano ballad, simply constructed and hauntingly recorded, though it only serves as a false introduction of sorts. The latter half of the album finds its way back to this sort of balladry, though even here, it’s a darker, more abrasive version of Hadreas’ past selves. The truly intriguing portion is within the middle third of the album, where Portishead member Adrian Utley shows off his production prowess.
“Queen” is downright one of the best songs in current popular music. It’s a defining moment in the trajectory of Perfume Genius, where Hadreas fully steps into the spotlight for the first time and flaunts and questions his character and unashamedly takes in the good and the bad. Each verse switches starts off with imagery of blooming flowers and elegant gold and deteriorates to rot and disease in its last lines. Yet, just after every one of these verses he bolts in with “No family is safe / when I sashay”. It’s one of the sassiest and best lyrics you’ll hear in some time; it undoubtedly will find its way throughout the internet in the next few months. It’s a singular statement about the unavoidable status of LGBT in America, and it’s a powerful sentiment that’s hard to look at, yet amazingly easy to initiate empathy.
Beyond “Queen”, the next string of five songs is the true heart of “Too Bright”. Switching off between harsh screeches and unabashedly simple melody, and flirting with dissonance within harmony, it presents a fresh, proud, and tattered version of the singer, like his anger and pride are shining through at nearly the same moments.
The second and final centerpiece, “Grid”, ends this gorgeously destructive middle section of the album by bringing back the “same old miles” from the opener. It’s the darkest track, but it seems so self aware of itself that it has to cover up its vengeance with a super catchy song. The final lines of the track are “A diamond swallowed in shit / at least we know where it’s been”, and it hits home in its nonchalant delivery. By confronting his demons more headon, Hadreas has crafted a singular musical statement equivalent to some silent beast struggling to breach the body of a calm water. It comes up every now and then, violently thrashing its pleas and rage, but it’s the negative space and emptiness that ultimately proves most devastating and powerful. “Grid” would be too menacing a song to end with, so we get the sparsely beautiful title track and “All Along” as a true conclusion, something equally as moving in its tranquility.
Favorite Tracks: “Queen”, “Grid”, “My Body”, “All Along”