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It would be too easy to describe Too Bright as a radical departure for Mike Hadreas, otherwise known as Perfume Genius, yet there is the unmistakable air of an artist transformed this time around. Hailing from Seattle, this is the 32-year-old's third record and it marks the beginning of a realisation of his musical ambitions, and those ambitions can surprise and disturb in equal measure.

There were hints that this day would come. On his debut album Learning, the plonky, arpeggiated piano and quivering vocal style imbued a sense of desperate fragility; he sounded like he might have a nervous breakdown and fall off his piano stall at any given moment. But the delicate, sparse arrangements of his debut belied his potent lyricism. Hadreas is fearless in his honesty and intimacy. "He let me smoke weed in his truck/If I could convince him I loved him enough/Enough, enough, enough" he sings of a predatory teacher on 'Mr Peterson'. Drugs, molestation, suicide; and that's only one song. The album as a whole was harrowing and what that indicates is an artist who is not scared to take the plunge in to dark, unspoken territory.

It's that bravery that makes 'Queen', the lead single from Too Bright, in a roundabout way, a logical step for Hadreas. It is a righteously defiant reaction against "gay panic", where your very (gay) existence causes others to be threatened or scared. Hadreas explains that, "Sometimes I see faces of blank fear when I walk by... if these fucking people want to give me some power, if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles--well, here she comes." And with that in mind, he has succeeded. You can almost hear the Penis Squid Queen cascading through the city streets, as petrified bystanders run for their lives, screaming, "She'll slit your throat with her mascara brush, steal your children and give them pedicures!" In one sense it's hysterical, but on the other, deadly serious.

The foundations of the track are a particularly gloomy style of glam rock with a luxurious mix of twinkling synths, brooding guitars and whirlwind whistles. The main refrain alone demonstrates how supremely gifted Hadreas is as a lyricist - "No family is safe, when I sashay." With pinpoint precision, it contrasts the kind of fear mongering we expect from organisations like the American Family Association with the thrill and spectacle of watching an episode of Rupaul's Drag Race. The counterpoint between what is understood to be a 'threat', and simultaneously 'camp' or effeminate - something which is understood to be diametrically opposed - perfectly ridicules the lunacy of this panic. It's a sharp, assertive riposte, and not without significance either when you consider that there are still parts of this world where 'gay panic' can be used as a legal defence against murder (here and here)

Though 'Queen' is arguably the centrepiece for the record, it doesn't necessarily set the tone as you might expect. It is preceded by 'I Decline', a folksy piano ballad that is similar to the slow, aching emotion of his previous output. Whereas the track that follows it, 'Fool', is a finger snapping, ethereal pop number which has more in common with gospel than giant, penis squid queens. Further along the record he somewhat unexpectedly touches on angsty rock'n'roll with 'My Body' and 'Grid' where he shudders and croons like a mock-Elvis Presley bled through a filter of PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love. Her influence is evident at various points across the record, which isn't a surprise given Hadreas' open appreciation of her work in interviews, plus the inclusion of Harvey's regular collaborators John Parrish (percussion) and Ali Chant (co-production). As well as Adrian Utley from Portishead on production duties, they have helped Hadreas throw himself head-first into these new sounds and he pulls them off with genuine finesse. After a while with the record you start to think that he has been writing like this for years.

This is particularly striking on the demonic 'I'm A Mother' (an ode to Harvey's 'I Think I'm A Mother' perhaps?) The subversive satire found on 'Queen' rears its head again as this song, Hadreas claims, is about giving birth out of his ass (yep!) which we assume is probably a first in the history of popular music. His voice is pitch-shifted down to a muffled, ghoulish groan as choral bursts dance an eerie waltz with a languid bass. If Hadreas wasn't intentionally trying to creep people out with his lyrical style before, then you get the impression that is his precise ambition with the mournful arrangements of this track.

For those that can't simply bear the thought of a Perfume Genius album without pianos or more songs about anal birthing, there are 4/5 plaintive piano-led tracks that should keep the accusations of apostasy away. Of these songs, the title track is particularly beautiful and pensive; Hadreas stretches his voice to its very limits whilst a bustling piano longingly stabs away into a dreamy echo. This is followed by the album closer 'All Along', which has a slight Americana hue to it, with a full band joining in on the second half of the song. As the rhythm section builds up, he pleads in the final lines, "I don't need your love/I don't need you to understand/I need you to listen." It's very hard not to be swept away by moments of sheer beauty like this, not unlike the Perfume Genius project as a whole.

Despite the quality of the material across the whole album, the variety in styles at times can make the sequencing feel a little at odds with itself. We are thrown between the heart-aching ballads ('Don't Let Them In') and then screaming rock'n'roll numbers ('Grid') which causes them to seem more disconnected from each other than they probably are. This is not helped by the lyrics which are not always as clear as they were on his previous records.

Aside from this, Too Bright is a strident and bold statement from an artist who has finally undone the knot of his past. It won't be the record which brings him mainstream success but it will be the record that frees him from the pigeonholing of his bruised and broken singer-songwriter image. Perfume Genius now has the potential to become an ever-changing and evolving project, one which follows a singular path, like the aforementioned Harvey. The glimpse of this future on Too Bright demonstrates that Hadreas is tantalisingly close to making this a reality.

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