Perfume Genius (photo by Camille Vivier, PR)
Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
There's a powerful evolution to the artistic arc of Perfume Genius. Mike Hadreas's solo project began over a decade ago and both his 2010 debut album, Learning, and his second release, 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It, were sparse recordings with brief songs, featuring Hadreas at the piano.
But on his next two albums, 2014’s Too Bright and 2017’s No Shape, Hadreas's music grew bolder, richer, and more intricate, and he added bandmates. For the fifth Perfume Genius album, the passionately titled Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, he takes a genuine leap forward. Influenced by a dance piece that he collaborated on in 2019 with choreographer Kate Wallich, called “The Sun Still Burns Here," Hadreas's Set My Heart On Fire Immediately spins from that experience. It's a constantly fluid and romantically disarming collection of songs that shifts from slow waltzes to big, exuberant grooves.
"It was dance that blew up this separation between my work and the world, between my work and other people," he explained in a recent interview with the New Yorker. "It blew up this idea that I had to be detached, internal, solitary, to make things. It changed my writing. I started thinking in terms of stories, of physical settings, of real people, not just of ideas."
Hadreas's earlier works were often painfully autobiographical, but these new songs, as he said, are of people, places, experiences, and emotions. Growing older is swept into the rich melodrama of “Whole Life" while “Your Body Changes Everything" exudes sensuality. “Jason” is a stark recollection of a one night stand, pitched to the sky with Hadreas’s best falsetto (a fragile wonder in "Moonbend" too).
A rich, elegant tone runs through Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, and the lushness of the arrangements casts a dreamy spell, like on the haunting “Borrowed Light.” Hadreas shifts downward into a startling, deep register on the surreal “Leave," awash in violin and a dark rustle of whispers. But not all is cerebral; there's plenty that accelerates the heart rate, from the synthesized funk of “On The Floor” to the buzzing guitars that rumble through “Nothing At All."
Blake Mills, who produced No Shape, returned to produce Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, which was recorded at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. Hadreas plays synthesizers on roughly half of the album, turning to electric piano on one song. An outstanding group of musicians also appears on the album: Jim Keltner and Matt Chamberlain, both on drums; Mills on guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizers and more; Alan Wyffles on keyboards; and Pino Palladino on bass. In addition, Phoebe Bridgers and Ethan Gruska both contribute harmonies to “On The Floor.”
All of the songs on Set My Heart On Fire Immediately were written by Hadreas, with Mills co-writing “Moonbend” and Wyffels, who is also Hadreas's longtime partner, contributing to “On The Floor.”
Hadreas has released an album that equally challenging and accessible at same time. His evolution as a singer and songwriter has always drawn on both achingly personal ruminations and more universal views: basically, on what it means to be human and finding your way through a complicated, often harsh world. With Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, his vision has never been more vibrant.