Perfume Genius: 5 Albums That Changed My Life
Perfume Genius has been releasing music as lovely as his name since 2008, but his fourth release, No Shape, marks a shift for Mike Hadreas.
It’s more experimental. It’s more surprising in some ways, its gorgeousness rooted in confusion. “I pay my rent. I’m approaching health,” Hadreas says in a release. “The things that are bothering me personally now are less clear. … I don’t think I really figured them out with these songs.” Still, they shine.
“This [record] is a little more immediate,” Hadreas told TIDAL. “More what I’m feeling now and in the moment. But it’s not necessarily about depression anymore. It’s more just like a buzzing anxiety. It’s a little confusing.”
In light of the new record, we spoke with Perfume Genius about some records that left an impression on his life — and that contributed to the sound of No Shape.
Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
[This record] changed a lot for me. It changed what I thought music could do and what it was. I got that album when I was maybe twelve. I stole a Spin magazine from the grocery store and there was an article about her and it talked about her stage fright and also how controversial her lyrics were. It was really exciting to me, so I got that album.
The way she was singing about sex — really specifically and explicitly but without any shame or apology…it was about her. Those were all things that felt very secret to me. I was a very apologetic boy even though I hadn’t had sex yet; who I wanted to have sex with was not going to go over well in my friend group. So to hear her sing about those things in that way was just really powerful to me. I didn’t know you could talk about them, let alone sing about them. I’m kind of glad that I decided, on a whim, to stuff that Spin magazine in my pants.
Talk Talk, Spirit of Eden
I only listened to that album for the first time in the last few years. When I think of music that changed my life, I usually think of music from when I was a teenager, but this one — maybe it’s less dramatic — but it kind of reformed my brain a little bit. I actually heard it because after my last record, the third album, people had asked me if they were an influence, and I had never heard their music. So I decided to listen and then I became really obsessed with them and now I really do count them as an influence.
It’s so beautiful and warm and soulful, but really surprising — and fun to listen to, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. His voice kind of phases in and out, present and in the background, almost like another instrument. He has kind of a thin, strange voice and I kind of identify with that because I don’t have a traditional voice — I don’t belt, I can’t just go into a room and start singing a cappella. I need context. Even after I started making music, I don’t think I was ever that comfortable with [my voice]. But I kind of figured out how to sing right before I wrote my first song. I must have been twenty-five, maybe.
I think a lot of it was just committing. I sang just because I was like, “I’m going to sing now.” I was very purposeful, I was like, “I’m going to write a song. I don’t care if I sound like shit. I’m just going to finish something I’m going to make something.” And I ended up really liking it and realizing that making decisions and doing shit was the key I was needing for a long time.
Elliott Smith, Either/Or
I got that album in high school. It was a dark time for me. For everybody. I don’t trust anyone who didn’t have a dark time in high school. I just heard someone who didn’t even necessarily seem like they were ready to share…that they were just trying hard to exist and be. Which is how I felt that I was. And then to hear someone else having that same feeling but then forming it into something really beautiful and honest…it was very powerful to me and became the soundtrack to that time in my life.
I ended up seeing him a bunch. Even the way that he performed, he was all tensed up. He looked like he didn’t want to be there, but was drawn to being there at the same time. I kind of how I felt like that in general. About existing. So it was a powerful thing.
The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
When I first met by boyfriend, he played that album for me a little bit afterwards. You know that movie The NeverEnding Story where they’re in the old bookstore and they open on old book and it makes him go into different worlds or some spirit is shaken loose or something like that? That’s how to felt to me when I heard it. Something old, but meant for me. That’s very dramatic and obviously a magic I made up myself, but it was just so beautiful and just had the spirit I had been looking for in music for a long time.
They always sound like they’re pleading with God or something. It’s really plaintive. There’s this desperation in it. Very cathartic and beautiful. It changed the way that I sing; it changed the way that I think about music. They help me push my singing into somewhere not super expected.
Cat Power, Moon Pix
Being a teenager and being young… I’ve always loved music, but I needed it in a very different way than I need it now. And since I started making it, I don’t really listen to anything in the same way anymore. But I needed it. I was on the outside. I hadn’t moved to the city yet. I hadn’t been around other people that had been on the outside. It was just me. And even if that wasn’t true, when you’re a teenager that very much feels true.
Moon Pix was a beautiful album. I haven’t heard a lot of music that seemingly comes from depression. I’ve heard a lot of sad music, but depression is a void that nothing comes out of to me. When I was feeling depressed it was like there was this nothingness…this blank sort of numb, aimless kind of anti-feeling. I feel like her music sprang from that, but it had soul attached to it and had some weird, formless beauty.
I don’t know, I’m talking about of my ass, but it was a companion. It almost felt kind of rebellious. She was rebelling against her need to stay in and stay lost in and not do. All that stuff came from that, and I think that’s kind of inspiring that you could feel that way and still make something.
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