“No one will answer your prayers until you take off that dress, No one will hear all your crying until you take your last breath. But you will learn to like me, and you will learn to survive me.”
The problem with buzz-bands (as a blanket category that includes songwriters) is that with all of the blog coverage and otherwise that they get, one can talk fluently about their style, biography, and even songs on their most recent album without having heard a single song from it. It’s a unique problem that goes past saying “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never heard them”; it’s as if they’ve been listening since day one. This can especially become troubling when said band or artist is one with deeply heartfelt output, and while is this is becoming rarer every day, it only means that those who choose to truly bare themselves do it in a more dramatic fashion than usual, oftentimes in efforts to make a name for themselves (see: Xiu Xiu).
On a different, more vibrant plane of existence in the underground music universe, there is an overwhelming (or just whelming enough) surge of artists tagging themselves as being a part of a revolutionary idea called “queercore.” The tag is meant for bands and songwriters who, as people and through their music, focus on queering gender and celebrating their sexuality. While the gender-neutral pronouns can sometimes be dizzying, this primarily D.I.Y-focused movement is fun and interesting, and can sometimes change views within one show to unfamiliar faces. I (yes, here I am, stepping out of third person) was lucky enough to watch Your Heart Breaks, a huge promoter of this queercore idea, play at The Old Town School of Folk Music to a bizarre mix of 15-year-old Juno fans and 50-year-old ticket buyers expecting “real” folk music. He proceeded to move the crowd in this order: he baffled them, amused them, related to them, moved them, and led each and every person to a standing ovation at the end.
At the cross-section of these two concepts entered Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius, after learning piano and immediately writing his first album Learning in 2010. While the fact that he had just recently learned piano would imply amateurishness, the whole affair sounds like the work of a songwriting expert who’d been left tongue-tied for years, with a lot to say. The couplet at the beginning of this article is taken from the title track, a truly haunting song in which there is more starkness than actual playing and singing. Over the course of a year and a half, the album generated a lot of buzz, garnering a lot of anticipation for his 2012 follow-up album Put Your Back N 2 It. The buzz can be attributed to a recent return to lo-fi recording styles and non-guitar-based music in terms of “popular” underground music, an oxymoron for the ages.
The fact that this is why the buzz happened is very alarming, for sexual reasons as well as music-related ones. The main problem with this is that Mike had chosen to take a path to express his sexuality in an exceedingly rare fashion. In the world of music made by the LGBT-otherwise community, the spectrum often deals strictly in extremes, of celebratory, almost in-your-face happiness (directed at a typically-bigoted world), and the negative, jarring documentation of sadness and internal struggle due to alienation (SEE: XIU XIU). But Mike’s music falls in a strange limbo between these extremes; it views his sexuality as something good and shameless, but focuses on the sad experiences within it, and it’s negative, but with lights dotting the ends of tunnels. That hope doesn’t require sing-along chorus for reassurance, either. And the sadness isn’t shoved in front of anybody in order to change minds about prejudice. In fact, he doesn’t acknowledge that prejudice exists at all.
This is because Perfume Genius is not about changing minds, and he’s not interested in bringing people down to his level of isolation. It’s not about letting the world know that he’s gay and proud of it. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t have to be an important statement at all. He knows all the information anyone would need to know about him is implied in the music, considering how truly representative of himself it is. And so, he decides to relate and relay his experiences to the world, as if he were your close friend, without any political agenda behind it whatsoever.
And yet, despite this unique claim, the name Perfume Genius often leads to this conversation:
Q: Have you heard Perfume Genius yet?
A: Oh yeah, I have Learning.
Q: Isn’t it awesome?
A: Well, I have it unzipped on my computer, I have to listen to it sometime.
It’s not a crime to not be “into” things other people are “into.” There are so many bands and songwriters to keep up with, and it would require some sort of superhuman capacity to acquire knowledge of it all. The crime is the Warholian, assigned fifteen minutes of fame each “buzzing” band or artist receives that leads to this confusion, and the criminals lie within the entire underground music blogosphere. A songwriter conveys an important message merely by being himself, and gets lost in the shuffle. If that’s not a crime, I don’t know what it is.
So, reader, here is a message that will not get lost if this article’s been read up to this point: listen to Perfume Genius, and in listening, find humanity locked inside the cast-iron heart of the modern internet music machine.