Music

Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It

Arnold Pan
Photo: Angel Ceballos

Maybe the accepting and open-minded world that Perfume Genius's Mike Hadreas imagines in his music isn't yet a reality, but it takes socially conscious artists like him to push such a vision forward.


Perfume Genius

Put Your Back N 2 It

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-02-20
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Sometimes the personal can’t help but be political, when the way you choose to express yourself ends up taking a social stance, whether you mean it to or not. That’s one way to describe what Perfume Genius’s Mike Hadreas faces up to when making music, as the kind of artist who transforms his most private and intimate reflections into something much more. So while Hadreas has gotten the most attention for his unflinching accounts of sex and the psychological complications that come with it, his second album Put Your Back N 2 It touches what’s more essential and not so sensational about his songs’ subject matter, appealing to a broader human condition by embracing his specific experiences as a gay man. Hadreas articulates how a yearning for belonging and acceptance can go hand-in-hand with maintaining what makes each individual unique, seeking out what people have in common while appreciating the differences that define us all.

Hadreas makes you ponder these deeper issues about identity and social norms by working with something everyone’s familiar with -- the love song. More precisely, Hadreas gets his point across by remaking what’s taken for granted as a love song, leading you to think again about what counts as one and whose stories it can tell. Part of the way he challenges those conventions is by putting his perspective and desires up front, without mincing any words over writing songs about porn (“AWOL Marine”), body image issues (“17”), and sex (the title track) on Put Your Back N 2 It. While it’s easy to emphasize the provocative content of Perfume Genius’s music, a number like “Put Your Back N 2 It” is compelling because it hits you on so many fronts, from the moving way Hadreas’ fuzzy confessional pop tugs at your heartstrings when his boyfriend faintly traces his main vocal lines, to its intellectual exercise of unraveling the ideologies built into the straight love song. The elegiac “No Tears” gets you to puzzle over the interplay between Hadreas’ thin falsetto and the deep, gruff voice that both interrupts and complements his own, giving new meaning to the cliché that opposites attract by creating its own sense of beauty in the contrasting tones and textures.

Take “Hood” as the most obvious example of how Perfume Genius works on many levels at once. Even though the video featuring porn performer Arpad Miklos -- which includes scenes that got the trailer for the album censored by YouTube for what Google calls “non family safe material” -- is what folks are talking about, what really stands out is a sense of tenderness and fragility that belies what appears to be scandalous, as Hadreas, accompanied by haunting piano chords, gives voice to the vulnerabilities that apply to pretty much any relationship (“You’d never call me baby / If you knew the truth / Oh, but I waited so long / For your love”). Matching the striking, stylized images of the video to the universal sentiments of the lyrics, Hadreas pushes his audience to rethink their expectations of what love and love songs are, putting those categories in flux and making them more inclusive in the process.

Although such expressions are probably most powerful on individual terms, Hadreas uses his most private situations to take on social taboos without ever coming off as preachy. A good case in point is the stirring “All Waters”, which goes into Hadreas’s mind as he walks the street with his boyfriend wanting nothing more than to be able to go hand-in-hand with him without feeling self-conscious, depicting a small, touching moment that comes to mean more than that in a social sense. As Hadreas longs for the day when “I can hold your hand / On any crowded street / And hold you close to me”, to a slowly shifting sheet of synth noise that crescendos into something like an epiphany, he isn’t just daydreaming -- he’s helping to make what he imagines come true by making his desires heard. It’s a song that’s as defiant as it is poignant, as Hadreas gets the listener to empathize with him, exposing in turn the hypocrisies and double standards of what’s deemed acceptable acts of romance and affection. That’s how the personal becomes political on Put Your Back N 2 It, as the social commentary of “All Waters” shows that excluding some people from feeling like they truly belong only reveals the similarities of the wants and hopes we share, which is what makes the track both sad and uplifting.

So while the questioning quality of Perfume Genius’s work certainly sets it apart from that of even the most self-aware singer-songwriters, it’s the way Hadreas longs for and paints a more open and open-minded world that makes his vision unique. Using the lingua franca of minor chords to convey heartaching longing, just in a new vernacular, Put Your Back captures that universal feeling love songs tap into, only to expand the scope of what and whose experiences are accounted for. That also means he addresses love in all its romantic and platonic manifestations. The old-timey closer “Sister Song” is about the communal feeling of keeping a light on and seat warm for a friend who’s off searching for himself, while, on “Dark Parts”, Hadreas reaches out to share all that’s happened to him in order to bear the pain of whomever he’s addressing -- be it a friend, significant other, or even a stranger in need -- when he sings, “I will take the dark part / Of your heart into my heart”. And whether you want to take the title ironically or straight, “Normal Song” basically redefines what “normal” means as Hadreas embraces the marginalized characters that he tells about. To a simple waltzy strum, Hadreas tries to “comfort the girl” and “comfort the man” alike, teaching them from the lessons of his own struggles that “No secret / No matter how nasty / Can poison your voice / Or keep you from joy”. On “Normal Song”, Hadreas shows that dealing with the past for the future isn’t a case of wiping the slate clean, but of coming to terms with yourself with all strings attached.

If there’s a shortcoming to Put Your Back N 2 It, it’s that the songs can sometimes feel too brief, almost begging to be stretched out and further developed. Then again, you can’t really ask much more of Hadreas, considering that he seems to put every ounce of himself into his densely packed compositions and probably has nothing left to give. Although the trials and tribulations Hadreas writes about don’t always make for an easy listen, his music has an idealistic dimension to it, envisioning the best of all worlds where he can try to touch everyone without having to be anyone but himself. Maybe that kind of society is not yet a reality, but it takes artists who are transforming their self-consciousness into a social conscience -- like Hadreas -- to push that difficult process forward.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image