Michael Hadreas aka Perfume Genius returns after 3 years with the follow up to 2017’s critically acclaimed ‘No Shape’. This is the 5th release from Hadreas under the Pefume Genius moniker, 10 years since the release of debut album ‘Learning’. On ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’ Hadreas embodies themes of masculinity, love and eventual heartbreak and creates his most refined work to date.
Sonically this album is the most expansive project Hadreas has created yet. It ranges from the indie-folk and dream pop sounds of ‘Without You’, sounding like the lovechild of a Beach House and Angel Olsen collaborative session. To the shoegaze induced ‘Describe’ with its blown out guitars and distorted vocals, that then moves to an ambient soundscape of hushed vocals and distant synthesisers. And to the minimalistic noise hits of ‘Moonbend’, of which the subdued and closed in saxophone lines reminisce in the sounds of Bon Iver’s ‘____45_____’ from ’22, A Million’. There’s still of course the usual piano ballads laced throughout, but this change in style and movement in different directions has allowed Hadreas to showcase his ability to take a sound and own it. His vocal performance especially on every one of these tracks shines through brightly. Like on the track ‘Jason’ where Hadreas’ falsetto and harmony lines allow the intimate lyrics to become sweeter and more joyful.
The intimacy carries through onto tracks like ‘Nothing At All’, where Hadreas’ vocals are compacted and distorted over the rolling synth bass to feel like he’s breathing them into your ear. “I got what you want, babe, I got what you need, son, Nothing, nothing at all”. And the track ‘Your Body Changes Everything’ in which Hadreas is describing a deeply personal experience “Your body changes everything, You are anchoring, Until you fit beneath me, And you’re breaking like a wave”. On top of this symphonic instrumentation that bridles with joy and builds on this passion for the person Hadreas is describing.
There are many tender moments on this album but one of the absolute standout tracks is ‘On The Floor’. This is the ultimate heartbreak anthem. It’s got an incredible funky groove, almost reminiscent of an early Michael Jackson jam. It’s got deeply personal lyrics of a compulsive obsession with someone that Hadreas is trying to escape that juxtapose perfectly with the upbeat instrumentation. “I’m trying, but still, I close my eyes, The dreaming, bringing his face to mine, The constant buzzing all through the night, The fighting rips me all up inside”. And it’s got a chorus that you’ll be singing in your sleep. All whilst being surrounded in this silky smooth production that glosses through your ears seamlessly.
For every moment of joy there’s an equal moment of introspection and retrospection where Hadreas looks back on his life and whats ahead. Opener ‘Whole Life’ and closer ‘Borrowed Light’ both focus strongly on this and bookend this album of honesty. ‘Whole Life’ is a hopeful rejoice of life, where although half Hadreas’ life may be gone, what’s left in front of him doesn’t have to be defined by whats already happened. “The mark where he left me, A clip on my wing, Oh, let it soften, I forgive everything”. But on ‘Borrowed Light’ Hadreas sings that maybe everything’s already predetermined, you can’t control what’s going to happen. “I thought the sea would make some pattern known, And swim us safely home, But there’s no secret, Just an undertow”. He’s come to realise from all the events and stories described throughout the album that life is weird, strange and often fleeting and there’s nothing he can do about it.
Over the course of this album Hadreas has further solidified his position as one of the most expressive songwriters of today. He’s allowed his sound to expand outwards whilst still retaining his signature tenderness and passion that he sows into his songs through lyrics of honest truths and intimate tales.