No Shape, the new record by Mike Hadreas, also known as Perfume Genius, begins slowly with the track “Otherside”. Sparse unassuming keys ring as if in an empty room accompanied only by Hadreas’s characteristic croon— one that’s capable of conveying anguish, longing, and disgust- sometimes all at once. But this time around he sounds entirely serene and at peace, singing tenderly about succumbing to a greater force, perhaps a higher power. It is only when the starkness of the track sets in that something completely unexpected happens. A burst of blinding synths crack open like light pouring in through a stained glass window, resulting in an uplifting moment of pure transcendence— one of sheer ecstasy and understanding occurring only for a flash. Leaving the listener wondering if it really took place or if it was only imagination, it impeccably sets the stage.
Even from his earliest records, Hadreas has consistently demonstrated strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Using intimacy and vulnerability as weapons, he is an artist who has always readily embraced his own identity and the territory that comes with it, whether that be institutional oppression or self-loathing. Hadreas has always been a fighter, a sentiment illuminated on “Queen,” the lead single off his last record Too Bright; an anthem with a swagger-exuding chorus about unapologetically embracing one’s queer identity. “Queen” also demonstrated extensive growth for Hadreas. Never before had he been so forthright or “pop” about his intentions.
It would not do No Shape any justice to deem it merely as being “forthright” or “pop.” Lyrically and sonically, it is Hadreas’s boldest record but also his most vulnerable. He’s taken the themes and commitments of albums past and expanded them, experimenting with sounds and adding a range of new shades to his repertoire. As for the production, Hadreas worked with Blake Mills, and the results are astonishing; each track a world unto its own. “Go Ahead,” for example, stumbles and stops like an unsteady march that briefly transitions into a flurry of bells before continuing the way it came, while “Just Like Love” lives up to its name as a waltz worthy of being performed by the Von Trapps. Songs ebb and flow, remaining fluid and never stagnant. They course through the veins of Hadreas’s words: poems and streams of consciousness reflecting the highs of romantic love and the lows of the anxieties that come with. Consequently, No Shape is also Hadreas’s most varied album, indulging in and exploring dichotomies to reconstruct the notion of binaries altogether.
“Die 4 You” appears in the slightly more subdued latter half of the record. Hadreas redoes the traditional love song, and the result is beautiful yet unsettling, melancholy while danceable. In his most tender croon, Hadreas explores the innate vulnerability and consequent anxiety of giving one’s entire being to another person, working through the idea that love does not provide all the assurance that one may need. The track brims with uncertainty at its outset. Then, about a minute and a half in, the tension unravels into subtle Trip-Hop, a transition that is surprising but one that feels entirely seamless, resulting in one of the most gorgeously rewarding songs of the year.
The same could be said about the record as a whole as well. Every moment feels extremely labored over, yet impeccable and necessary. Moments feel sweepingly grand yet startlingly intimate, reflective of the fractured nature of personal identity that Hadreas explores so gracefully. No Shape closes with “Alan,” a track that explicitly addresses Hadreas’s longtime partner, Alan Wyffels and their relationship. Hadreas calls attention to the way they are able to sleep through the night together and find contentment because of each other. He has never sounded more steady and confident, even more than while “[sashaying] away” on “Queen.” On the closer of his most ambitious outing yet, Hadreas confesses something invaluable: When living in a world that is constantly trying to cut down your very existence, sometimes it is enough to just live, to just be. There is so much beauty and value just in that.