PERFUME GENIUS Learning (Matador Records)
Seattle’s Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) paints a vivid portrait of a troubled youth in the Pacific Northwest, one that reminds me vaguely of the films of Gus Van Sant or the songs of Sufjan Stevens or the Mountain Goats. There’s a warm, personal touch to this cycle of songs, as though it oozed from his pores into a four-track on a rainy afternoon. Often accompanied only by piano and keyboards, he sings of what come across as snapshots from childhood — a motherly warning that God won’t listen to him until he takes off the dress, an older lover’s gift of a Joy Division mix tape shortly before his suicide, a letter from his sister while in the hospital. Whether all of this is fictional or autobiographical is beside the point. It’s an album that crafts a world you believe in. “Look Out, Look Out,” a lo-fi gospel song of murders out by the railroad tracks, is one of the most affecting numbers. It’s a throwback to the tone and sentiment of old-fashioned Americana; you haven’t heard the word murder sung in such a stark, terrifying manner since Johnny Cash. Sometimes the clear picture is overrun by hazy atmospherics, like a photograph overexposed, but that may be part of the point. The album unspools like an 8 mm film discovered in the back of an attic somewhere, crackling with love and an unspoken, heartbreaking sense of nostalgia.
— Robert B. Ker