Isolation breeds brutal honesty. That’s what Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) learned the year he moved from his digs in New York to his mothers home in Everett, Washington to escape the ensuing self-destruction he was headed for. Being so far away from what Hadreas had known, he felt the full breadth of isolation and loneliness. However, this was self-imposed isolation. He needed to escape to survive.
Alone, he sank into his checkered past, one filled already at 26 with love, loss, drugs and suicide. Such a past lends itself to a person who has lived several lifetimes, and yet Hadreas is in his 20s. However, these hardening circumstances ended up producing some of the most vivid songwriting to sneak under the radar last year.
A bleak and intense, but beautiful record that made its debut last summer, Learning is an amateur masterpiece of home recording.
The album was released with the tracks appearing in the order they were recorded, the result playing like it was put on wax yesterday. You can hear Hadreas breathing into the microphone on the title track. All the material centers around his reverberating vocals, sparse harmonies and a keyboard in all its forms from a classic piano to the more synthesized.
Hadreas started his months of writing with the title track, and from there, the songs flowed. This makes the album play like an open book to Hadreas’ past, each song being an excerpt from scattered, but haunting memories.
The track that first caught the ear of Turnstile records, “Mr. Peterson”, is about a teacher who turned out to be a pedophile, and the subsequent suicide that followed. The track is striking in that such heavy content is lifted by a darkly catchy melody. “You Won’t B Here” uses the same effect, delivering a tear-jerker, and yet the music makes for one of the most cheerful tracks on the record.
The lyrics mix poetic metaphors with a relatable, straight forward tone, as in this line from the aforementioned “Mr Peterson,” “He let me smoke weed in his truck/ if I convinced him I loved him enough.”
This makes it easy to feel what he’s singing about so when the agonizing screams at the end of “Perry” come in, you’re right there with him. “No one will answer your prayers until you take off that dress” opens the title track, accompanied with loosely layered harmonies and sparkling pianos. It creates a show stopping ballad and an instantly gripping way to start an album.
From there the tracks seldom move from this aptly depressing space. “Gay Angel” and “No Problem” are bleak and desperate, the later using a slow clap to break up the wall the keys create. His vocals and his writing are coy. The keyboard being the strength to an otherwise frail persona. Hadreas holds a steady whimper every once and a while breaking to give us a confident harmony.
Being a musician and a songwriter, it’s an inherent part of the trade to bare it all. That’s what sparks the connection between the writer and the listener. As a new comer who wrote as a way to cope with his trouble past, Hadreas has his listener by the by the heartstrings through all 40 minutes of his debut record.
Each track is short, to the point, but startlingly brilliant nonetheless, speaking volumes to Hadreas’ natural ability to lay it all out there, unflinchingly. Remember though, with a story like this one, it’s is only the beginning.