Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It (Cover Artwork)

Perfume Genius

Put Your Back N 2 It (2012)

Matador Records

Mike Hadreas is very adept at making others uncomfortable. While his first album was a collection of wildly detailed stories about normal people doing terrible things to scrape by, his first video for his latest release drew a hail of criticism from some corners of the media. Not a single person got hurt nor genital was shown during the video. However, having two grown men try to comfort one another during their existential freakouts is just too taboo for advertisements, despite the push from Matador Records. Naturally, this backfired, and Mr. Hadreas found himself being championed by Michael Stripe and having interviews all over the place.

It's almost fitting that the video has made so many uncomfortable. Put Your Back N 2 It follows a similar mode of storytelling found on "Learning" but with more finely tuned writing. Opening the album with a marine's two-minute fever dream as he gets ready to star in porn to pay for medications, Mike's frank writing is wrapped in the warmth of excellent production, distortion and tickled pianos. There may not be any joy found for what he's going to put us through in the next half hour, but like his obvious influences in Stephen Meritt, Elliott Smith and Antony Hegarty, we're not going to be alone in this journey.

And no, it doesn't get much happier from the first track. Child abuse, crumbling intimacy, desolation and mental illness run rampant. "17" might be the darkest suicide note a teenager has left behind since, well, ever. "All Waters" starts off as a warped Disney track before the sunshine is pulled away, realizing that we may never be able to fully grasp intimacy with those we love. And yes, themes of identity and sexual orientation are in the mix, both the personal and political. "All Waters" laments the inability to feel safe being able to hold hands with a lover, something others take for granted every day. "Hood" recorded a gay porn performer to cradle Mike as he tiptoes towards destroying a relationship in the fears that his secrets and past have already doomed him to do so, just in case the rambling pianos and his desperate warble didn't hammer the point home.

As close as this album teeters towards despair, Mike always manages to conjure a few strands of hope. Reaching out to be someone's anchor (the title track), a bit of blind faith ("Floating Spit") and naïve determination can prove incredibly effective tools for staying afloat. Despite how bleak the world can look, Put Your Back N 2 It is a comforting hug for those nights you just want to lay around and feel miserable just long enough to get your bearings and continue on.