After a criminally ignored debut album “Learning” in 2010, Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas) is back with a graceful sophmore effort titled Put Your Back N 2 It. Kitschy and fun as that title may be, the music contained within is anything but. Those familiar with his first record will find many of the same or similar painful topics tackled once again with serene grace and aplomb. Physical and mental abuse, drug addiction and sexual trauma are all parts of Hadreas’ world, as they are parts of so many others’ as well. On “Learning” he fully embraced that darkness, which often made the record difficult to listen to. It was the warmth of his sparse, lo-fi piano arrangements that helped to turn these ugly moments into bearable ones. He’s cleaned up his sound quite a bit, expanded his instrumental palette just a little, and injected a touch of positivity to his lyrics to help make Put Your Back N 2 It feel like a good cry and a warm hug. On “Dark Waters” he comforts a victim of molestation with the quavering words, “I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart.” Hadreas also pushes for strength in sad times on “No Tears” by singing, “I will carry on with grace/Zero tears on my face.” Songs such as “All Waters” and “Hood” deal with love in all its forms, the former a meditation on the acceptance (or in some cases non-acceptance) of homosexuality in our world today. A 16-second promotional video for the album, which featured Hadreas being cradled like a baby in the arms of gay porn star Arpad Miklos, wound up being pulled from YouTube under the controversial excuse that it was promoting mature sexual themes (there was no nudity in the video). That’s more tragic than the song itself. Instrumentally speaking, Hadreas keeps things pretty simple: almost every track is either a piano ballad, a quiet acoustic guitar number, or a murky synth soundscape. Only moments like the title track and “17” dare to incorporate some violins and cello to flesh out arrangements for dramatic effect. So much of the emotion on this record is contained within Hadreas’s vocal performances, which at times quake in the precious style of Antony Hegarty and Stephin Merritt or gently whisper with the heft of “Seven Swans” era Sufjan Stevens. Few people have dared to make an album so brave, honest and topical, and that’s a big reason why Put Your Back N 2 It is such a success. With two excellent albums now under his belt, it appears that Perfume Genius is certainly living up to the second part of his name.

Perfume Genius – Dark Parts
Perfume Genius – All Waters
Perfume Genius – Hood

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