I remember the first time I heard The Antlers’ “Hospice” very clearly, my eyes glued to the lyrics as I experienced the album, riveted like any intense story or movie. “Hospice” was emotionally stirring, but was admittedly dark as it journeyed through death in a hospital bed. It got under your skin and dragged you in for repeated listens. I know that “Hospice” is not the subject of this review, but follow me for a second if you don’t mind.
Perfume Genius, the stage name of Seattle’s Mark Hadreas, has released “Put Your Back N 2 It”, an album I’ve been looking forward to hearing ever since I got a hold of a free download of “All Waters” last year, which went on to be listed #30 in my favorite tracks of the year post due to it’s absolutely haunting beauty and slow build. Now he’s released the full length album to critical acclaim (82 on Metacritc, Pitchfork’s “Best New Music”, etc.), but after listening to the album I feel little else than unsettled.
Now I know that some art is unsettling, and that many consider this to be a virtue. Perfume Genius deals with subject matter that I don’t relate to on any level, which I’m sure plays a part in my reaction, although I wonder how many people will. But when this content is cloaked in the lovely piano that makes up the beginning of songs like “AWOL Marine”, it sends a chill down my spine that I don’t find the least bit enjoyable. On “AWOL Marine” there’s a deep sigh, and on “Dirge” there’s strained breathing. “No Tear” has an almost creepy deep voiced backing.
On “Put Your Back N 2 It”, Perfume Genius is tender, shaky, unnerved, and disturbed. Yes, at it’s best moments he sounds a little Sufjan-y, and the purity of the piano and the strings throughout is undeniable. “All Waters” remains an outstanding song, and “Take Me Home” with its touch of soul and percussion add a slight mood shift that is very welcome. And despite the sadness underlying “Hood”, like “All Waters” it sounds undeniably gorgeous.
I recognize that this review may sound unfair, but I try to understand who my readership is and be honest with my reactions to the music I listen to. When I listened to The Antler's’ “Hospice”, I recognized the heaviness of the content, but I wanted to listen again and again and again. After enduring the gut-wrenching emotion of “Put Your Back N 2 It” set consistently over close-to-repetitive soft piano for two minute snippets of time, I emerged with no desire to listen to this album too many more times in my life. This will put me in the minority, I believe, but that’s how I view it. Still, “All Waters” deserves a place in your collection, and “Take Me Home” as well. I certainly don’t discount the talent that Hadreas has, but I believe that respecting talent/ability is not inherently tied to enjoying it, and I must be honest on my reaction and express doubts at how much you will like this album.