Boomkat Product Review:
Initially commissioned for a contemporary dance performance, Perfume Genius's latest is a dematerialization from pop climates into humid orchestral experimentation and gusty, avant soundscapes. Seriously strong material, for fans of Julia Holter, Arthur Russell, Björk, or ANOHNI.
Commissioned by the Seattle Theatre Group and Mass MoCA for choreographer Kate Wallich’s "The Sun Still Burns Here", "Ugly Season" is a departure for Perfume Genius, who's best known for the driving alt-indie of popular albums like 2020's "Set My Heart On Fire Immediately". Here Mike Hadreas takes a more melancholy tone, employing lush orchestral elements and augmenting them with subtle electronics, layering his characteristic vocals in unexpected choral patterns. There's a medieval flavor to 'Herem', as Hadreas crows in evocative falsetto over a hurdygurdy-like drone and punctuating double bass. He never lets his ambition overwhelm the mood, retaining a skeletal minimalism that propels the track into fairytale eccentricity as it snowballs into a rolling Raster Noton beat in the final third. It's cleverly realized posturing: Hadreas manages to queer stylistic stuffiness without clearly stating his intentions. The subtle Disney-fication of experimental motifs and church themes is radical just by existing.
"Ugly Season" even picks up the tempo when it reaches 'Pop Song', a delicately minimal almost-banger that threatens to explode into multi-instrumental bombast but keeps things focused on splintered saw synths and Hadreas' gorgeous voice. But it's the title track that really allows us to gaze into his mind's eye - on 'Ugly Season', he twists dubby no-wave patterns into an undulating jam that balances early '90s dance music shakes with bright 'n breezy Broadway sun. Later, on 'Eye in the Wall' he expands the concept, drizzling echoing guitars and taught basslines into a near 10-minute prog-pop deluge that spirals into almost cosmic disco weirdness in the second half.
At a time when pop music has been sanitized beyond recognition, it's refreshing to hear an established artist still eager to challenge both himself and his audience.