Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Pop connoisseur Perfume Genius, aka Michael Hadreas, returns with his fifth album Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, released last week via Matador and Remote Control, and it’s a stunning piece, both as a whole and in its layers. Reuniting with Grammy-winning producer Blake Mills, who produced his last record No Shape (a sign of a flowering partnership), the album explores his returning ideas of perceived masculinity and queer identity, but all on a larger scale. Now he’s backed by a heavyweight crew of session musicians, including Kim Keltner, Matt Chamberlain, and Pino Palladino, who normally make their mark with rock royalty like Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. The record was also accompanied by a short essay from the acclaimed queer poet-novelist Ocean Vuong, pondering whether music is “a negotiation/disruption of time” and this is truly what the album succeeds in doing. To listen to Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is to let the world around you stop for a moment as Hadreas’ music overpowers and empowers.
Viewing the album cover lays bare how raw and uninhibited this record will be, a moody black-and-white shot of Hadreas standing steadfast and ready, and the sound that follows is one of drama and emotion. The album, at the simplest point, signals growth for Hadreas. The new strong supporting players, the enhanced arrangements, the album cover – all express Perfume Genius as an artist of increased power and focus.
Hadreas weaves his vocals through numerous genres, never settling on one note. Describe is drenched in sludgy 90s alternative rock while Leave glitters under melancholic baroque-pop. Each transition is carried out with unceasing confidence, Hadreas our restless soul, always pondering and searching. The vocals are often distorted and mumbled, enveloping us in a warm but disconcerting intimacy, but when they are able to be understood, the lyricism is vivid and striking. On Moonbend, the song that most recalls the rawer sound of his earlier work, Hadreas softly murmurs “carving his lung, ribs fold like fabric,” evoking powerfully physical imagery; Jason sadly and wryly recounts a desperate one-night-stand in precise detail (“We were twenty three/Breeders on CD/When we woke up/He just asked me to leave”), his enchanting falsetto reaching a crescendo hilariously as he remembers stealing money from the man’s blue jeans.
Perfume Genius released his first album, appropriately called Learning, in 2010 and there’s a lovely circularity with Hadreas offering his richest and most ambitious record in the first year of the new decade. His vision is fuller, his musicality is grander; if his earlier works were coming-of-age records, Hadreas sounds fully complete now.