Perfume Genius : Put Your Back N 2 It
The album artwork for Perfume Genius’ debut album Learning was a self-portrait with the face blotted out. The cover shot for new album Put Your Back N 2 It has a similar masking effect, an act that both highlights and censors, but it’s a group portrait and the smear is a shared one. It retains the alienation and uneasiness, but the paint covering two male faces suggests a connection, perhaps a sexual union.
This subtle shift in the cover art echoes the progression in the content and sound of the two albums. While the follow-up to Learning is no less intimate and haunting, the subject matter is (slightly) less harrowing and isolated. It feels more expansive, as if the subjects go a little more outside of the singer’s immediate experience. It’s also more consistent - sure, Learning had Mr Peterson, but it fell away a little in the second half. These twelve new tracks sound more assured and benefit from a shift to a cleaner, less lo-fi production.
The genius of Perfume Genius is the way the vulnerable vocal is pushed to the forefront and is accompanied by spare piano backing, so when some flesh is added onto the skeletal sound, it’s done with care. White noise surges in to threaten the gentle introductory song Awol Marine. No Tear has a soulful vocal turn that recalls Antony, while some pitch-shifting harmonies in the style of The Knife add to the uneasy atmosphere. All Waters has a glacial ambience in the vein of Sigur Rós.
These shifts in the weather create some exhilarating peaks late in the album. There’s an almost complete lack of backing percussion throughout, so when bass and drums finally crash in to join the piano in Hood for a mere thirty seconds, it’s a beautifully timed change of pace. Best of all is the wave-crashing drum machine and falsetto wails in Floating Spit, a heartbreaking song about drug addiction.
While there are a few shafts of light spilling into the dark world of Perfume Genius, you figure that there will never be a light and fluffy album from him until homosexuality stops being demonised. This is a very honest album from a gay artist and he plays it like he sees it. We like to think we live in a progressive modern world, but for every rational thinker, there’s a Bob Katter waiting in the wings. Even the YouTube promo for this album was subject to censorship due to not being ‘family safe’, which says so much more about censorship and lack of representation for minority groups than a blotted-out face ever could. On the plus side, amazing album.
BY CHRIS GIRDLER
Best track: Floating Spit
If You Like These, You’ll Like This: Seven Swans SUFJAN STEVENS, The Crying Light ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS
In A Word: Heaven-scent