Out of the darkness comes Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius with his eagerly anticipated debut album. Akin to the lady in Eraserhead’s radiator, his fragile voice and simple orchestration shimmers, almost from beyond. Trapped within a dreamlike state, calling out, hoping someone, somewhere, will hear, or better still, understand his pain.
Learning is an outpouring of emotion from a man who has undergone years of torment. But it doesn’t just document the past – it is his therapy – not just reliving, but also reappraising the events that shaped him. On first listen it can inspire a sense of guilt, as if you’ve stumbled upon his diary and are flicking through uninvited. Delving into his darkest thoughts and innermost desires.
For the bulk of Learning Mike favors the piano, but on ‘Gay Angels’ and ‘No Problem’ he switches to organ and synthesizer. Here the parallels with David Lynch continue. Both have a Twin Peaks feel to them in their musical construction, but also in their creation of an air of trepidation and uncertainty.
Even though he has gone on record as being embarrassed by his own voice, its ability to pierce the soul is unparalleled. Similarities can be drawn with Stipe or Wainwright, but really he has a style all of his own. When combined with such raw content it quickly becomes awe-inspiring.
Despite its relatively short runtime, at just under 30 minutes, it’s a tempestuous experience that can be hard to complete without a pause for tears or desire for sanctuary elsewhere. When the screaming starts on ‘Perry’ the urge to escape can often overwhelm; but well deserved loyalty will inspire most to dig their heels in.
The home production also creates an invisible barrier, that he seems desperate to break through – hoping to find some connection away from his side of the mirror. But upon realising he can’t break out, the only choice is to pull you further in.
If all the above sounds like a difficult descent into a well of shadows, that’s because it is. Yet, by choosing this path there will be euphoric shafts of light and beautiful rainbows illuminating the sky after the storm. Learning is one of the finest illustrations of human emotion ever captured on record. Just make sure you have a box of tissues nearby.