By Benjamin Baldwin, Editorial Staff (‘20)
Perfume Genius, the moniker of artist Mike Hadreas, has released his fifth studio album — Set My Heart on Fire Immediately – a gorgeous, genre-melding work that explores themes of desire, personal relationships, and one’s relation with the self and body.
He again teams up with producer Blake Mills from 2017’s No Shape (which is also a stunning work), yet with a final result texturally more varied and darker in tone, confronting themes with more direct storytelling and introspection.
Hadreas opens the first track “Whole Life” with lines that seem to counteract the themes of youthful love on No Shape: “Half my whole life is gone/Let it drift and wash away/It was just a dream I had.” This is all done over dreamy, Roy Orbison-esque instrumentation, signifying both despair over what possibilities one has lost to time while also embracing and letting go of that past, moving forward and laughing it off as if it were just ‘a dream.’
This transitions into the twofold “Describe,” starting out with grungy, shoegaze-infused alt-rock and Hadreas asking for someone to help him remember the ‘light’ in life in the face of depression before descending into a murky soundscape of indistinguishable strings and muttered voices.
The blues rock of “On the Floor” explores hopeless, internalized desire that turns into obsession that is both distanced from and a potential beacon of hope for those desires and love to eventually flourish. This track exemplifies what Perfume Genius does best: to write songs that are both sweet and subversive, weaving together the complex layers of emotion that paint a vivid, often moving picture.
The mellow synthpop of “Your Body Changes Everything” explores one’s relationship with their own body, shifting from the bodilessness exaltation of No Shape’s “Slip Away” to emphasizing a purely corporeal experience and the body’s ever shifting dynamics. For someone whose body has not always been kind to him (Hadreas suffers from Crohn’s disease and suffered from a period of addiction), this song seems to follow the mantra of “Whole Life” by letting go of the past, embracing the present (if only briefly), and grounding oneself in their body.
Hadreas has said in multiple interviews that this shift in his songwriting, from abstraction to more personal, corporeal storytelling, was partially inspired by his work in the modern dance performance “The Sun Still Burns Here,” in which he performed as a dancer and provided the soundtrack. One of the primary aspects of the album is how Hadreas utilizes disparate musical styles in order to craft his own identity and space, using the pillars of past styles and subverting them for his own needs.
Everything about the album demands the listener’s attention, starting right away with the immediacy of the title and the confident stare of the cover. The music itself flows through resemblances of country, rock-and-roll, yé-yé, grunge, synthpop, baroque pop, and even an interpolation of the ethereal “Song To The Siren” recording by This Mortal Coil (appears, fittingly, at the end of “Some Dream”). By taking up each of these musical spaces he creates his own path forward with fragments of the past, forging an alternate history of pop music with his experiences at the center. This album is a fantastic, emotional, and captivating piece. Highly recommended.