Perfume Genius shines on 'Too Bright'

Balladeer-turned-combatant finds confidence

With "I Decline," the opening song from Perfume Genius' latest album, Too Bright, pianist Mike Hadreas' overlooks a vast expanse of undefined humanity. "I can see for miles," he croons over piano lines as delicate as spider silk. What Hadreas, the lone performer/songwriter behind the Perfume Genius curtain, sees is left intentionally unclear. It could be as specific as healthier life choices, but he prefers to keep it opaque. Hadreas takes a careful look over this boundless territory, even implying that he is an "angel above the grid," yet he rejects this offering. "I decline," he proclaims. This defiance prefaces the birth of a redefined Hadreas that takes control on his third, and most confrontational album yet.

Hadreas uses his latest as bold subterfuge, a glossy armor that repels societal expectations and hides his fragile insides. If "I Decline" is the pitch for Hadreas' new persona, the second song, 'Queen,' is his grand entrance, the defining moment of his ascent into pure tenacity.

"Queen" is a song arresting in its directness. Hadreas' homosexuality, and the negativity he's endured because of it, colors much of his anger on Too Bright. "No family is safe when I sashay," he spits out like venom before "Queen's" triumphant chorus crashes in.

The confrontational Hadreas who snarls throughout Too Bright may surprise listeners who have followed the pained musings of his last two albums, Put Your Back N 2 It and Learning. "A lot of my first music was looking at the past and dealing with things that have already happened and trying to heal old wounds," he says. "It wasn't doing the trick for me."

His combative lyricism served more as a newfound therapy than a middle finger to his detractors. "I knew if I twisted the anger I had and took away the victimy and defensiveness of it and flipped it to something more powerful, it would be more helpful to me and other people too," he says.

The drastic change in his personality isn't restrained to his lyrics, either. There are songs such as the short, yet powerfully unsettling "Grid" that incorporate grating synthesizers, which wail like steel colliding with steel. "I'm a Mother" is another signpost of his bubbling rage. The track is driven by a droning, cheerless synth chord that guides his vocals, manipulated to the point where any signs of human warmth are stripped away.

One of Too Bright's producers, Adrian Utley of Portishead fame, is partially responsible for Hadreas' transformation. "I didn't have to overexplain anything to him," he says. "Mood-wise he knew exactly what I was trying to be."

The audacious Hadreas who makes Too Bright such a remarkable feat is even beginning to merge with his real-life persona. In live performances, he's embracing the power of his body movements, prowling the stage rather than shying behind his piano, and most notably of all, having fun. "I've played five shows now, and I'm already feeling more comfortable," he says. "I'm proud of my other shows, but I wouldn't ever consider them fun."

Perhaps the most crucial facet of Hadreas 2.0 is his refusal to wait for audiences to latch onto his message. "Instead of asking people to listen," he says, "I now have this need to sing at people more than I ever have before."