Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Perfume Genius ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’

May 22, 2020

Album Review/Enrico Stradi





Continuing in 2020 with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail will be cosying up and sharing reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

This month an in-depth, beautifully written purview by Enrico Stradi of the new Perfume Genius album, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately.


Perfume Genius   ‘Set My Heart On Fire Immediately’
(Matador, 2020)


“My mission is always to get out of myself”: the story of Perfume Genius‘ fifth and last album can start from here, from these words spoken in a recent interview, and from the feeling of inconsolable awareness they emanate. In fact, it may sound like an excessive generalization, but despite this it has something true, to write that the entire production of the talented Seattle producer refers to the body, to his body as a man and artist. A theme that in the course of the songs and records has been explored in its multiple meanings: the body as the place where the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, from which Mike Hadreas suffers from birth, are manifested; the body as an emotional dimension, where the effects of unsolved relational and affective difficulties collide; the body as a territory of identity and aesthetic claim, as painful as it is proud, as fragile as it is spontaneous, of its belonging to the queer community. In short, Perfume Genius’ relationship with his own physicality is a relationship that has been – despite the most painful implications, or perhaps in nature of them – a vital lymph, the burning substance, alive and propulsive of art. And this continues to be so, even in his latest work, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, in which Hadreas continues his very personal exploration of himself.

On the fifth album just released for Matador comes to life the new transformation of the author, who ten years after his debut album has been able to tell his twisted and suffered universe in the form of lo fi piano ballads (Learning, 2010), dramatic sentimental heartaches (Put Your Back N 2 It, 2012), enlightening and powerful claims, not only sexual, in pop sauce (Too Bright, 2014) and ethereal and sparkling baroque (No Shape, 2017). Set Your Heart On Fire Immediately represents the most recent evolution in this exploratory path, and marks a moment full of meanings for the author – not by chance, the opening of the album is entrusted to two verses that only a few seconds later we can fully understand: “Half of my whole life is gone / Let it drift and wash away”. Thus begins the first track, ‘Whole Life’, an orchestral construction of violins that seems almost to be placed there to try to reconnect to the last album No Shape, almost to resume an interrupted speech. But those verses are in that precise position because they have the task of telling something else from what we already know, namely the precise will to move away from everything Perfume Genius has embodied so far. And in fact, a few seconds later, here is ‘Describe’ with its dirty, distorted, rough and dusty riff, so unexpected that it almost hurts in its expressive power. It is the sound of an explosion, of a burning fire, of a heart on fire. What we are witnessing is not only a crucial moment of the album, but an effect of sudden expansion that Hadreas has carefully studied, codified and repeated other times during the fifty minutes of the album, without ever losing the effect of expressive unpredictability. A moment that is, in a few words, one of the keys to reading this, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately: a work that feeds on the same varied and heterogeneous musical material of which it is composed.




Throughout its duration the album gives in fact sudden shifts of atmosphere and sound, warmth and intensity. The lyrics give the music a meaning similar to oxymoron: in the writing of the emotional torments, physical and mental disorders or in the story of emotional suffering we pass from the extended sounds of ‘Without You’ to the falsetto accompanied harpsichord of ‘Jason’; from the funky ‘On The Floor’ to the wandering and dreamlike ramblings of ‘Leave’, from the hypnotic dramas of ‘Just A Touch’ to the warm and dark synth of ‘Your Body Changes Everything’ or the rough guitars of ‘Some Dream’ (here another of those memorable explosions mentioned above). In interpreting each of these passages Hadreas shows a masterful familiarity, almost comparable to that of a contemporary dancer who during his performance transforms his body taking various forms and positions. The comparison with dance is not here by chance: in 2019 Perfume Genius took part in a choreographic performance co-directed by Kate Wallich and titled The Sun Still Burns Here, and he himself admits the decisive impact on his latest album.

The muscular strength that emanates from this record comes from afar, is the result of a fervent and insatiable experimental curiosity, and represents a new and unpublished chapter in the story of the relationship with one’s own body. Rather than trying to escape from its physicality, as it happened in previous albums and in the quote we reported at the beginning, in Set My Heart On Fire Immediately Hadreas puts it to the test, with all the effort that this effort requires, trying from time to time in different or unexplored territories. And not only musical, but also visual, equally important for what he intends to communicate: do you remember the way feelings like anger and pain, love and suffering were expressed before this album? Those intimate contortions of ‘Learning’, the vibrant heart inside ‘Too Bright’? Do you remember the lipstick from ‘Hood’? The skates from ‘Fool’? The sequins from ‘Queen’? The bucolic, Shakespearean races from ‘Slip Away’? Look at him now, Mike Hadreas, on the cover of the record, shirtless and stained with motor oil, with that fierce, battling look. Look at him rolling around on the ground soiled with dirt or performing a choreography that resembles a duel to the death. Look at him, while for the first time he faces openly those masculine and masochistic imaginations he has always felt repulsive and threatening: now he even challenges them, embodies them, and radically changes their symbolic connotations. It is an achievement of his. A liberation. It is yet another metamorphosis. Perfume Genius is another person again.





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