To my ears, Perfume Genius has always been a project that documented growth. Not only has each album dealt with Mike Hadreas’ identity and the experiences that built that identity, but each album has sonically and lyrically displayed a change in its creator. Listening all the way from the fractures of his trauma on Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It through the triumphant No Shape is one of the most beautiful journeys you could take with an artist from the last decade. That journey flourishes like never before on Perfume Genius’ latest peak. To call Hadreas’ fifth album stunning would be an understatement. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is nothing short of spellbinding, art that’s constantly shapeshifting yet always honest and beautiful.
Like all Perfume Genius albums, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately begins on a somber note. Unlike past openers however, Whole Life neither wallows nor explodes: it blooms. The way its mourning synths give way to baroque strings and guitar that only continue to rise and rise as Hadreas sings, “I forgive everything/I once hummed the seasons/Now, I’m whistling” is the perfect expression of freedom to open this record. From there, the album only continues to grip you at every turn, from the hazy heaviness of the beastly Describe to Moonbend’s serene clarity. The intoxicating claustrophobia of the record’s first act only allows its peaks to fly higher. The slow build of Leave makes the release of On the Floor, already one of the year’s most ecstatic pop songs, nothing short of pure euphoria. The way that Perfume Genius transforms across the record is fascinating, floating between tempos and styles effortlessly. These fluctuations can be sudden, but they’re never clunky - each switch-up or sonic shift has a fluidity to it that makes it feel so natural.
Changing with such ease can only really be achieved when someone is confident and content in themselves. Mike Hadreas is able to pull off so much transformation because he is aware of who he is, both personally and artistically. He is not changing anything about himself, but instead reshaping those parts of his identity to fit the song, maybe even mold it. If No Shape was like a solid melting into a more flexible liquid, then Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is the equivalent of listening to that liquid evaporate into a gas and move beyond whatever space it had been confined to. Hadreas sings of his sexuality and identity more openly than ever before, sounding totally proud of this part of him. I’m struck by the contrast between the overt sensuality of songs like Jason and Moonbend, and the fearful declaration of love and concern on All Waters from 2012. Back then, Hadrews expresses a profound love for his longtime partner, but was afraid to take his hand in public, due to homophobia at the time. Though things seem to have improved over the last decade, homophobia still very much exists. I wonder if Hadreas would still be as tentative to hold that same hand in public now though... Set My Heart On Fire Immediately makes me doubt it. This is an album free from judgment, free from limitations, and free to be whatever or whoever it wants to be. It’s as melancholy and pensive as it is intensely euphoric: the breathtaking apex of everything Perfume Genius has been building over the course of a decade. On Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, Mike Hadreas is an artist unbound.
Favorite Tracks: ON THE FLOOR, Whole Life, Describe, Without You, Jason, Leave, Your Body Changes Everything, Moonbend, Just a Touch, Nothing at All, One More Try, Some Dream, Borrowed Light
Least Favorite Track: N/A