Perfume Genius’ Put Your Back N 2 It turns pain into art
If the nineties taught us anything at all, it’s that misery loves company, and, more specifically, the miserable love a musician who can play guitar with the best of them but isn’t afraid to cry.
2012 has brought in a wave of new artists who openly talk about the darker emotions—and sometimes there isn’t a positive message in sight. There is something to be said for music that just… hurts so good.
Perfume Genius, otherwise known as Mike Hadreas, taps into his sadder side on his sophomore album Put Your Back N 2 It.
This record brings to mind artists like James Blake and Cat Power, and every track carries a powerful sense of grace.
When his label, Matador Records, asked him to explain his thought process during the making of this album, Hadreas said, “I don’t want it to seem like I’ve been through more than other people. Everyone has stuff. Staying healthy can be more depressing and confusing than being f***ed up. But I want to make music that’s honest and hopeful.”
The first song on the album, “Awol Marine,” showcases Hadreas’ excellent mastery of the piano. His vocals are reminiscent of a less dub-influenced James Blake, but it’s the instrumentals that really tug at the heartstrings.
“Normal Song” is definitely one of the star tracks on this album. The show-stopping piano has been put aside for a simple guitar melody and clearer vocals. It’s hard to not succumb to the sweetness of Hadreas gently murmuring, “No memory, no matter how sad, no violence, no matter how bad, can darken the heart or tear it apart.”
Another great track is “No Tear.” Yes, the opening bars instantly call to mind Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” but that seems fitting. Hadreas does not deny the utter wretchedness of life’s circumstances. However, he counters the ugly with poise, courage and some bluesy influences. Once again, his piano-playing brings this song to the next level. The lyrics are strong, but the piano music is what brings depth to the music.
“17” is another fine example of Hadreas’ carefully controlled piano swells. The instrumentals create a track that is quietly epic. The lyrics depict the mindset of a troubled teenager and the genuine darkness of the words, like, “In the body of a violin, string it up on a fence, cover it with semen, I am done,” make the listener do a double take and certainly preserve the sense of sincerity that this album projects.
The title track, “Put Your Back N 2 It,” is a soft number that sounds like the cousin of a Sufjan Stevens song. The meaning behind this track is particularly special. Hadreas explained to Matador records that he “wanted to write a gay love song with two men singing together.” In particular, this song was a message to his future partner, so the lyrics and accompanying instrumentals are notably tender. Amidst all the gloom addressed on this album, this is a song about growing love.
Overall, this is an album that possesses copious amounts of beauty and grace. Yes, it frankly addresses the more troubling aspects of everyday life, but Hadreas’ musical talents and brutal honesty turn misery into a masterpiece.
Perfume Genius will be performing in Seattle on April 9 at The Crocodile.