AN IMPRESSION OF PERFUME GENIUS’ SET MY HEART ON FIRE, IMMEDIATELY
By Ocean Vuong
Can disruption be beautiful? Can it, through new ways of embodying joy and power, become a way of thinking and living in a world burning at the edges? Hearing Perfume Genius, one realizes that the answer is not only yes—but that it arrived years ago, when Mike Hadreas, at age 26, decided to take his life and art in to his own hands, his own mouth. In doing so, he recast what we understand as music into a weather of feeling and thinking, one where the body (queer, healing, troubled, wounded, possible and gorgeous) sings itself into its future. When listening to Perfume Genius, a powerful joy courses through me because I know the context of its arrival—the costs are right there in the lyrics, in the velvet and smoky bass and synth that verge on synesthesia, the scores at times a violet and tender heat in the ear. That the songs are made resonant through the body’s triumph is a truth this album makes palpable. As a queer artist, this truth nourishes me, inspires me anew. This is music to both fight and make love to. To be shattered and whole with. If sound is, after all, a negotiation/disruption of time, then in the soft storm of Set My Heart On Fire, the future is here. Because it was always here. Welcome home.
—Ocean Vuong, 2019 MacArthur Genius and author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
More About Perfume Genius
Perfume Genius is the moniker of artist Mike Hadreas. Hadreas grew up in Seattle, WA and started his music career in 2008. He released his debut album Learningin 2010 via long-time label home Matador, and it instantly caught the attention of critics. “The songs on Hadreas’ full-length debut are eviscerating and naked,” said Pitchfork, “with heartbreaking sentiments and bruised characterizations delivered in a voice that ranges from an ethereal croon to a slightly cracked warble.” These descriptors became the hallmarks of Perfume Genius – Hadreas’ unique ability to convey emotional vulnerability not only lyrically, but with his impressively nuanced vocals.
His following album, Put Your Back N 2 It was released in 2012 and continued to build both his audience and critical acclaim. 2014’s Too Bright, exhibited a massive leap forward in both production and confidence. Co-produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead the album featured the stand-out single, “Queen.” Inspired by “gay panic,” the track quickly became a queer anthem and a powerful statement of being. Hadreas performed the song on Late Night with David Letterman.
In 2017, Perfume Genius released the GRAMMY-nominated No Shape, an album that would crystalize his fanbase world-wide and bring mainstream awareness to his art. The record was produced by Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes). “If you listen to the four Perfume Genius albums in chronological order, you can hear Hadreas healing himself in real time, moving toward an emancipation that seems, suddenly, to have come to pass,” said The New Yorker. “The center of his music has always been a defiant delicacy- a ragged, affirmative understanding of despair. ‘No Shape’ finds him unexpectedly victorious, his body exalted.” Over the course of the campaign he appeared on multiple late-night television shows and graced the cover of The Fader.
In between albums, Hadreas joined Seattle-based choreographer Kate Wallich for the collaborative dance project The Sun Still Burns Here. In 2019, the show travelled to Boston, New York and Minneapolis after its Seattle debut. It featured both Hadreas and his long-time musical collaborator and partner Alan Wyffels.
His new album, Set My Heart On Fire, Immediately has Hadreas re-teaming with producer Blake Mills and features musicians Jim Keltner, Pino Palladino, Matt Chamberlin and Phoebe Bridgers. The album is masculine and rooted, with decidedly American musical influences. Throughout Hadreas’ plays with the themes of love, sex, memory and the body and the end result is his most dynamic album yet. The album will be released in May, 2020 on Matador. Perfume Genius will join Tame Impala on a North American arena tour throughout the Spring and Summer.
Perfume Genius’ music has played a central role in a number of films and television including The Goldfinch, The Society, 13 Reasons Why, Booksmart and Eighth Grade. He has collaborated with artists including Christine And The Queens, Sharon Van Etten, Weyes Blood, Cate Le Bon, Anna Calvi, King Princess and more. Hadreas has also collaborated with brands like Prada and W Hotels on special projects. His albums have been nominated for a GRAMMY Award and a GLAAD Media Award and have topped numerous Decade-end lists including Billboard’s, Pitchfork’s, Crack’s, Paste’s and more.perfumegenius.org/