Some albums are so great, they can overcome any personal biases. Such is the case with Too Bright, the third album from Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius. I was pretty opposed to Perfume Genius’s music before Too Bright, finding it at worst boring and hard to listen to because of its extremely lo-fi quality and at best just not for me. But upon hearing “Queen”, the lead single off of Too Bright, for the first time, I knew Hadreas’ music was worth a second look.
The two-minute confessional of “I Decline” opens up Too Bright with the emotionally naked Hadreas we are used to, but compared to his past work, his voice has been brought further up in the mix, and sounds as expressive and pure as ever. It’s amazing how slight changes in production or style can mean a world’s difference in how it’s perceived by listeners, and this was certainly the case with me and Perfume Genius’s music. “Queen” follows and is just a mammoth of a song. As Austin has previously discussed, its mix of visceral noise, shimmering glam rock, and heart-on-its sleeve emotion make this song pretty much perfect. And it might not even be my favorite song on the album!
That distinction belongs to “Grid”, the hypnotic rockabilly song from the robot apocalypse. The way this song starts from a mix between Suicide and Springsteen’s Nebraska and as minimal as it gets then only to turn into a full-on nightmarish monster is more thrilling every time. Fans of past Perfume Genius albums where Hadreas was more of a piano balladeer will be shocked by songs like “Queen” and “Grid”, but I think these songs offer up the sort of music only Hadreas can make: broken, glamorous, vulnerable, yet ultimately triumphant.
Hadreas has become somewhat of a gay icon, but his songs don’t only speak into that experience. “Fool” is a soulful breakup song about being left feeling stupid and used, but like so many of Perfume Genius’s songs, they start, stop, and completely change on a dime keeping you on your toes and emotionally invested. The complete shutdown on fool at two minutes that leads to a huge vocal exhale seems pretty unorthodox at first, but it’s the perfect thing to relieve the tension and split up the song. “My Body” has a similarly pulsing electric heartbeat like “Grid”, but its haunting and smothering in the best way rather than playful and devious like “Grid”.
The album ends on two ballads in the flavor of Perfume Genius’s old work, but in the light of the rest of the heaviness and brokenness of the rest of the album, “Too Bright” and “All Along” serve as an affirming and welcome change. This may seem like a diss, but Hadreas’s voice reminds me of the pure and expressive Art Garfunkel, which while he is the forgotten half of Simon and Garfunkel in terms of long-term duration, there is no denying he had one of the best voices in rock history. “All Along” serves as such an ideal closer in tone and sound, a beautiful look back at this relationship that affected Hadreas so deeply and a shining example of the new confidence Hadreas has found.
Too Bright is in limited company in 2014 with Sun Kil Moon’s Benji as the only truly unique albums I’m not sure I’ll hear anything like again. It’s so emotionally raw and unique to the personality behind it, which is the height of what art as expression can be. Probably my closest comparison would be Of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You a Destroyer, another album that is a true creation out of one man (Kevin Barnes) born out of a desperate situation.
Hearing Too Bright not only showed me a side of Perfume Genius I liked (the noisier, more experimental side), but it illuminated the rest of his catalog for me. It was a real light bulb moment for me. The light was Too Bright for me to deny (sorry :).
Can’t Miss: “Queen”, “Grid”, “All Along”, “Fool”
Can’t Hit: “I’m a Mother”