I got into Perfume Genius sometime last year, I can't remember when. I think I had heard of him around when Put Your Back N 2 It came out, but I didn't listen to it... this isn't the sort of music I'm usually into. Like:
-It's a dude
-He's not rapping
Normally that would be three strikes. I'm really glad I made an exception here, though. PYBN2I ended up being an almost daily staple for months. It was short enough to be really addictive but long enough to always make a powerful emotional impact. Each song seemed distinct but there was themes and feelings that brought the whole album together. The instrumentation was everything I love in this genre these days - full and resonant drums, piano and acoustic guitar, and, of course, his beautiful soaring tenor. There was this awesome aesthetic of warmth, but also distance... it felt like someone you know very well becoming a little further away from you. Every song seemed tragic and compelling, even more as I learned about the stories behind them. There was a sense of an emotional suite where you feel like you're getting many small and intimate slices that add up to someone's whole of psychological being. In that regard it reminded me a lot of Sufjan Stevens, but minus... the fluff, I guess, like, anything not related to Sufjan himself. And most of the happy emotions. Maybe that's why his albums end up being like half the length of Sufjan's, and without anything longer than five minutes. But oh man, what he can do with that time.
Anyways, his new album came out today, and I'm pretty excited. Although I said earlier that you had the sense of getting a whole psychological profile on his earlier albums, but I know that it's just a sense. There's still a lot more to work through. And I think that's the most amazing aspect of these albums... there's a therapeutic quality that transcends himself, you can feel, in some part, the feelings he has as he acknowledges, he comes to terms with, he moves past. So basically I just hope making this album was good for him, because I'm sure then it will be good for me.
Perfume Genius - Too Bright
1. I Decline
Yay piano chords right off the bat. Yes. This is exactly what I want. "I can see for miles", ooh and then that violin coming in is very nice. There's a sense of very measured, deliberate action here. Wow he dipped very smoothly on "no thanks" and then the way he lets "I decline" out is really cool. Very cool. "That's alright, I decline"... S
Wow electric guitar. But again very measured and pulsey. I like these little choral ohhhs, and the drums wow so tight and minimal. WOW THAT SYNTH, okay I love that, this is kinda like an LCD Soundsystem jam but with like, nothing to prove and a whole lot more to say. lol. Dunno what I mean by that. "No families stare when I sashay"? I think? He always has really good lyrics I'll look at em later. I love the sense of beat on this, such a rhythmic spine to something that's so flying in the vocals. But then the instrumentation and the vocals sort of climax at the same points. Oh no family is SAFE. Hahaha. That's sick. Good for you. Get em! Etc. I like the way this is building up too, this is a really full song experience. These choral vocals hit a nice balance between pastiche and actually sounding awesome. I guess that's camp, that sweet spot. *
Huh again with a lot of distortions, and snaps... this is so lively. But then there's that awesome clean drum line too, this really works well. Oooh and then the way it mixed up there at like 0:35 was nice. "I congratulate you, then I leave the room", it always feels like there's so much implied in his lyrics, so much personal meaning. Ooooooh okay this is cool. What's happening here? I love the warmth and body of these chords. And his ghosty vocals, so haunting... Wow geeeeeeeeez this is just pure emotion, emotion -> sound, one step. And then the snap... and geez a whole other sorta jam. This is the sorta thing I wish Vampire Weekend sounded like hahaha. "I'm bleeding out on the couch you bought", this intersection of like, poetics and realism... omg the horn and piano coming in, this feels like... idk nothing this is pretty new I think. *
4. No Good
Ahh this is a classic sorta PYBI2I opening, words and then piano. "When the body's no good", and the piano stopping "short"... this has such a performative feeling. Like, there's that sense of exposure, of preparedness, and a nervous energy. Wow this is building up in a really cool way. Is it actually accelerating or does it just give that sense? Ooooh and the string bass dragging there at the "climax", and this little reset... such a cool song structure. Oops I forgot to listen to the lyrics entirely hahaha. I like his vocal rhythms a lot though. ooooooooh what's this though..... this little piano... omg i like this so much. It's like snow falling at the rate of rain. And it has that enthralling rhythm... ooh ahh, ooh ahh... If the rest of the song is like this I'll be so happy OMG A CELLO TOO. How could he make me like this outro more? UMM YOUNG THUG BEGINS TO RAP. nah. that was awesome, that was really good. **
5. My Body
hmmmm... this intro is again totally unfamilar. Really staticky and pulsey. Kinda sounds like something they'd put on Hail to the Thief?? or I just listen to too much Radiohead idk. This is a really strange one... Wow at like 1:00 or so it completely transformed. Is this industrial music?? The vocal effects are really cool too but very nightmarish lol. And then back to this like, dark alley street music, now with a little shaker, for bonus rhythm oooh I like those bass drum rhythms. The abruptness all over this song... what does it mean? S-
6. Don't Let Them In
Okay yeah this is like the most classic Perfume Genius intro ever. Piano and vocals and singing the title of the track. "Trapped in this body"... that's three songs now on that subject... I love the effect of the vocals that you can hear every quaver echoing out. And wow these little piano notes... just floating along... This is really dreamy, really... ephemeral... or something i don't remember what that word means exactly. And then back to the intro section's sound. Cool. S
Haha what like... so much dirty synths on this, and then these like, kinetic vocals. This is so crazy. "I can see for miles", yet again... And that screaming synth line, these vacuumey drums, this is plunging into bold new aesthetic territory. Wow the vocals in 1:20ish... that's crazy lol. That closeness and distortion, so screamy. This is like... kinda brutalist music y'know? And then the drums and the guitar sounds kinda like 50s rock n roll. This is pretty cool. I like his vocal effect, it reminds me of something but I don't remember what. S-
Oh god did you know longpig is what the slang term for human meat in Chinese black markets is?? Is that what this song is about?? "We bury me, for mama", the family themes again... so much mysterious personal meaning. And I think he's saying "sister". This is really cool, a really cool sort of rhythm. Wow I really like the part at 1:10ish, such an active melody, and wow the way it climaxes and stops all rhytmic elements at 1:30ish. And then they're brought in starting just with claps, that's sick, that's a really cool effect. This stomps hard man, this is a certified jam, damn son where'd you find this? etc. Noooo idea what it's about. Okay cool. S+
9. I'm A Mother
Wow, so deep... like, no light at this level of bass. And these murmurs... Is he saying something? I can't tell... The way he uses choral effects is so sweet... the way they grow... and this crying sound is... wow really brutal... man. This is a bleak one. "Down here", I think he's saying. "Down here I'm a mother", what does it mean? The mystery is part of the appeal... man though... these sounds. This is chilling. And the fullness of the sound is great, feels very all consuming. Basically no rhythmic elements at all on this song... Really interesting stuff. Not really any other songs I can think of that feel anything like this. *
10. Too Bright
Ahh piano, like... walking out into the sun. But oh no it's a cold day and you feel like shit! That's what the piano sounds like. This again has a very different sense of rhythm. Oooh the way the other elements come in around 1:00 is pretty sweet, the contrast between the two pianos is awesome. I really can't like... tell what's going on in this song, tbh... there's this sense of like... omg and was that a old farty trombone I heard? And oh man, this vocal harmony and then that screetch at like 2:20, this is really cool. It feels super expansive. This is a very confusing but good experience. *
11. All Along
Wow his voice is so like... tender and close here. I feel like I can hear every chord in his throat. Or however that works. The harmonies, oh geez. "Deep down, I never did feel right, even now", "Sometimes that feeling's a lie, you wasted my time", jesus wow these lyrics. And again this "stop short" on "time". And then the drums hell yes. This is cool. "A heart long desperate for something I had all along" i think OK these are pretty godly lyrics. This is the sort of experience I figured the whole album would be hahaha. *
Not Put Your Back In 2 It 2
But this is pretty cool too! He still went with that sort of sound on a few tracks, but I feel like he felt like doing a whole other album in that mode wouldn't... be as good as being varied? So he went into really interesting more electronic stuff, carrying over that awesome sense of momentum and rhythm... it's cool, but like... the thing about music like this, is that the moments you really like will have sense of being somewhat personal, too. Like, not everyone is going to be moved by the same lyrics or the same moments. So... when you have less of them, you lower the chance that a given person will have those few moments that they find personally extremely powerful.
Cause I dunno, the whole album was really solid, and I'll definitely be revisiting it and thinking a lot about it, but there wasn't much that moved me on the level of the transition in "Dark Parts", or the beginning of "Put Your Back In 2 It", and it was those moments that really brought that whole album together for me, that gave energy and anticipation to the less memorable parts. Here I think the only part that I liked that much was the outro of "No Good". But I dunno maybe those memorable parts were actually generated upon more thought and listens than I remember and eventually I'll have the same significance for parts of this one.
Either way, this is a very good, very cool album. He takes elements he's mastered - his beautiful voice, those rich pianos, the minimal yet powerful drums - and brings them into exciting and strange areas. He approaches synthesizer work with a mindset that feels both "outsider" and experimental and yet expert. But there's also a strange performative aspect to the whole thing... it's the sort of thing where you feel like you have a sense of the composition and rehearsal process just from hearing the end result. There's that sense of nervous energy that comes from seeing something that's the result of passion and dedication, where the success matters a lot to the performing person. I love that. It was much more apparent and "exposed" on PYBI2I, but you can still sense it here, even in the most rhythmic and electronic sections. Very interesting.