Perfume Genius Ugly Season Matador Records
A Perfume Genius record is a sublime act of transfiguration. Where 2017’s No Shape was a dissolution of flesh into a swell of airy pop opulence, 2020’s Set My Heart on Fire Immediately was a sprawling, lush return to physical form, celebrating the absurdities, elations and pains of the human condition.
Balladeer to ballet dancer, earthly to celestial – Mike Hadreas’ sixth album as Perfume Genius metamorphosises inside a queer creation myth to grapple with the body as a vessel, commandant, and gift. Ugly Season’s tracks accompanied Hadreas and choreographer Kate Wallich’s 2019 immersive dance piece, The Sun Still Burns Here. Working with visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite (of Solange’s When I Get Home) for the record’s short film, they tease at hopes for utopia, desire, and bodily pleasure just out of reach. It’s the sort of liberated melodrama that Hadreas does so deftly.
The record percolates with the body: a gasp on Eye in the Wall preludes frenzied percussion, its hymn-like chant of ‘give it up’ made for euphoric, loose-limbed clubbers. Teeth is an Edenic orchestral arrangement, a sanctified stomach flip with flutes that command arm hair to attention. Photograph builds with growling wind instruments and choir, finding a kindred spirit in Björk’s Vulnicura as Hadreas’ vocals run to operatic heights, with fado levels of vulnerability. Pop Song blossoms with beautiful falsetto, leading twinkling chimes and synths: “My body is stretched, and holding one breath, and sharpen the pole, and sever the flesh.”
Hadreas is a masterful, theatrical album arranger, and makes album closer Cenote a cooling exhale, the final savasana. Ugly Season is a scenic route to the world’s end that finds hope in bodily beauty, however ravaged.