A lot has changed since 2010 for Mike Hadreas, the mastermind behind art-pop project Perfume Genius. That year saw the release of his debut album, Learning. A quietly beautiful collection of piano-based songs, all strikingly vulnerable and personal, Learning set a high watermark that Hadreas would only top on his next LP, Put Your Back N 2 It. Fast forward to June 2022, and Hadreas has released a total of six studio albums as Perfume Genius (not to mention a few remix releases, appearances on numerous compilations, etc.). Each release has explored new territory, building on his original barebones approach to songwriting, whether it be glam rock (2014’s Too Bright) or chamber pop (2020’s Set Your Heart on Fire Immediately).
The latest release, Ugly Season, is actually a collection of material written back in 2019, initially the score for a contemporary dance piece called The Sun Still Burns Here. Now the work is presented in album form – and the results are stellar.
Sonically, Ugly Season is much more experimental in nature than any other Perfume Genius record. Pop music has always been a focal point of Hadreas’ music, and Ugly Season sees him going off the deep end, sacrificing catchiness for beautiful, lush arrangements and gorgeous textures.
Throughout the 52-minute album, Hadreas is clearly influenced by many unique genres – from Just a Room’s droning organs, which sound like a dirge from a Nico track, to the title track’s dub influence. Other writers have likened the album to Bjork’s Vespertine or Utopia.
Overall, Perfume Genius’ deep dive into experimental territory is a grand success – while I did miss some of the catchy choruses featured more heavily on earlier works, this album rewarded multiple listens – especially with headphones.
Images from https://www.matadorrecords.com/perfume_genius