We’ll be perfectly honest: Learning, the debut album by Seattle troubadour Perfume Genius, is likely to be lost in the dustbin of history. It contains only 10 songs. It runs under 30 minutes. There is barely a sound to be heard outside of solo voice and distant piano. In our increasingly desultory musical world, without a fresh new pseudo-category under which to file it (is it glo-fi? agit-pop? witch-house?), the record is likely to be given a few spins by rock critics, stamped with the dreaded “singer-songwriter” label, and ultimately tossed aside. Just because history might forget this record, however, doesn’t mean that you should.
Mike Hadreas (who performs under the aforementioned aromatic alias) certainly found all the right ingredients for a classic folk song-cycle: cope with an excess of personal tragedy (cf Tonight’s the Night); go into isolation (cf For Emma, Forever Ago); and record in a hurry (cf Pink Moon). After a life evidently filled with vaguely-reported tragedy (drugs were involved), Hadreas move from New York into his mother’s home in the small exurban town of Everson, WA:
In this rather lonely setting, Hadreas (who previously had little interest in recording music), rediscovered the piano and recorded his first song, “Learning:”
Perfume Genius – Learning
The song, with its haunting melody and baleful lyrical content, was the first of several to come. After streaming his work online for some time, he caught the attention of Turnstile records, which, in conjunction with Matador, released Hadreas’ debut full-length on June 22 of this year.
When heard straight through, the change of songs can be difficult to distinguish; rather than obvious changes in tempo or timbre from track to track, there is a gradual transformation of mood. From the lonely, defeated stance of the title track, to the hopeful entreaties of “Write to Your Brother,” to the ultimately resigned “Perry” and “Never Did,” one trip through the album leaves the listener with the impression of something quite affecting, quite unsettling, and quite beautiful.
Perfume Genius – Write to Your Brother
Pefume Genius – Perry
Perfume Genius – Never Did
We hope that, after being left with such an impression, you’ll want to take a second trip. Then, although the record may ultimately be lost to history, perhaps it won’t be forgotten.