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Review: "No Shape" by Perfume Genius

One of the real privileges of listening to Perfume Genius, aka singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, is that: as you progress through all four of his albums, you begin to feel like you’re watching somebody grow up and become comfortable with who they are. Listening to his 2010 debut album Learning, I can hear all of his insecurities bubbling to the surface, an insular man speaking his mind for the first time. On his latest record, No Shape, the butterfly has left the cocoon and fully spread its wings. Hadreas’ signature croon remains prevalent on every track, but a new kind of explosive confidence penetrates through. 

Where previous albums relied on subtle emotion to drive home the message, Perfume Genius delivers a transcendental bombshell that showcases the Tacoma, Washington native at his most mature and poignant. “Otherside” and “Slip Away," the two opening tracks, are unlike anything Hadreas has released before. They unexpectedly explode with an earthquake of drums and synths. The latter, lead single on the album, sees Perfume Genius delve into a realm of self-love:


“They’ll never break the shape we take.

Baby, let all them voices slip away.”


Hearing this track for the first time, it absolutely blew me away. I usually turn to Perfume Genius for quiet and introspective ballads, so having my senses assaulted with such bombastic swagger was quite a surprise. This is the first time I feel like Hadreas takes full command of a track. Not to say that he does not possess other fearless songs in his arsenal; 2014’s “Queen” is about as uncompromising as they come. However, where that track basks in newfound rebellion, “Slip Away” has nobody to prove anything to. It’s not for anyone, except the person singing it.

Perfume Genius does not completely abandon his old sound, though. In “Choir,” we are again greeted with a more troubled Mike. His voice shakes like a phantom, which, combined with apocalyptic violins, haunts and chills. This song transports me to the deep reaches of space, with nothing but the edge of the universe below my terrified feet.

No Shape sees Hadreas borrow heavily from 80’s pop, especially on tracks like “Sides.” The opening begs to be played out of John Cusacks’s boom box in Say Anything… We hear guest vocals from Weyes Blood that add a rich deepness to the song where Mike can’t. I especially like the lyrics on her half of the song:


“A million tired things

That you used to say

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Don’t want to watch

The world we made break.”


If any track can compete with “Slip Away,” it would have to be “Wreath." It’s the kind of song that plays when the hero of the film has been kicked down repeatedly and then defiantly gets up. Light vocals are layered with pianos that almost have a harpsichord quality, the notes twinkling like early morning dew. The words read straight out of Blake, a purely transcendental experience, with Mike using scenes of natural beauty to reach a state of self-awareness.

The one pitfall on the album comes in the form of the other single “Go Ahead." It begins with an incredibly awkward beat that is difficult even to define. Perfume Genius has always been somewhat of an inaccessible artist, but never to this level. Granted, the song does increase in quality as it moves along, but still maintains a headache inducing tempo. It makes more sense when put into the context of the whole album. 

However, it begs the question of: Why then was it made a single? It definitely is not a catchy poppy tune that can be played on the radio over and over. I think this is Hadreas, in the face of increasing fame and recognition, is sticking to the mired sound he started out with.

But even one perplexing track cannot bring down the beauty found in the rest of the album. No Shape closes off with Mike paying tribute to his partner of eight years on “Alan,” reflecting on his now-comfortable life with worried optimism. Watch enough Perfume Genius interviews, and you are bound to hear Mike recount stories of bullying during his high school days, because he was gay. This was later translated into years of drug abuse and low self-confidence. So now, living an idealistic suburban existence, Mike lies in bed waiting for it all to go wrong. Yet, it doesn’t. He even comments on “how weird” it feels to be in such a situation. And after what he has been through, who could blame him?

It is only May, and 2017 has already seen some truly standout albums released, especially from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Mount Eerie. However, make no mistake, this is the best album of the year so far. 

If you are looking for a record with a cohesive vision, a variety of sounds, some catchy hooks, and deep emotions then No Shape is for you. I was unsure if Perfume Genius would ever top his 2011 album Put Your Back N 2 It. But he did, in all of his barrier breaking, ass-kicking glory. 

Kyle Land is a music writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or

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