Owen Maxwell Reviews Perfume Genius' new album, 'No Shape.'

Matador Records


Perfume Genius

No Shape

Oh how titles can come back to haunt artists. On this follow up to Mike Hadreas’ (aka Perfume Genius) follow-up to his breakthrough album Too Bright the biggest issue is general lack of shape to so many songs. With that said however the overall creative mind behind it all crafts so much beauty in this mass that you’ll find yourself diving in to find it.

Moving on the light piano and pained harmonies that open the album on “Otherside” you’d almost expect an acoustic track before the sucker punches of synth and drums hit you out of nowhere, giving a cosmic feeling to the track. Shifting into wonky drums on “Slip Away” there’s an almost rain drip-like quality to the melody lines as the pluck endlessly. But the beat that hits turns the song into a euphoric power ballad with an almost tribal quality to its rhythms.

“Just Like Love” moves with pattering drum-line, with guitar and harpsichord’s lighting the dark and then disappearing as quickly as they’ve arrived. The string swells in the chorus however are so brilliant they’re sheer beauty, opening the door for touches of bells later on. Switching to an awkward beat on “Go Ahead” the slow creep eventually takes shape, after a drudge of loose percussion that slowly moves together. Although a cool way to make a song it does suffer from its lack of cohesion as it takes almost a third of its runtime to come together.

With strange strumming “Valley” floats like a loose collection of melodies bouncing off each other, with the swooning strings leading the way for more thick tones. “Wreath” however goes a more vicious route with budding, golden notes mixed with lo-fi grimy ones. Vocal lines soaked in both joy and sadness intertwine with passion deeply entrenched in each one with the sound of an artist fearless in every aspect of the composition.

Taking the more acoustic route promised on the album’s opener, “Every Night” decides to slowly creep the synths and strings in to create a growing mood rather than a pummeling switch for a song that pulls you in naturally for a completely different feeling. “Choir” goes right to the classical sounds on the strings and vocal styling, mixing them together in an off-putting way that has deathly overtones to it.

In an almost over-the-top love ballad “Die 4 You” carries so much darkness in its opening timbre that it’s even odder when it moves to a much more jolly yet creepy second section, never quite escaping its melancholy. “Sides (feat. Weyes Blood)” roars with distorted guitar and a killer percussion line that’s distinct in its minimalism, and balances the strings and grit perfectly. Creating one of the few instantly catchy melodies on the record this track spares no time in its hook. The bass groove kicks in for Blood’s section as she creates demented light in the song’s final gloomy moments.

Sparse for almost too long “Braid” is one of the moodiest tracks on the record, almost overdoing the emotion on its key-tone. While the moments and overall finale of the song are powerful the road there does feel a little empty. Taking a jazzy-blues side “Run Me Through is so distinct in its hook compared to many songs on the record, that it allows the space to actually speak where too many tracks on the record are only space. One of the most fun tracks on the record as well, the groove allows for a lot more play between sounds making for a constantly gripping piece. Closer “Alan” switches back to the sad piano ballad, with devastating synths that just tear you down to your core.

While there’s so much about this album that’s amazingly fearless and beautiful, these are sparing moments in a grander, and not overly cohesive piece. The few tracks that build from a solid base before diving into sonic freefalls stand much taller than their sparse compatriots. While there’s so much raw talent on this record too it just needs some refinement to fire on all cylinders more often.

Words by Owen Maxwell