Learning is the first album by abused and otherwise, only briefly formerly-juvenile delinquent, Mike Hadreas. It never rises much above a whisper, with Hadreas’ gentle, sugary voice floating on about murders happening in the neighborhood, sex with older men in their vans in exchange for weed to smoke, and hiding mouthwash from your mother so she won’t get drunk on it.
These musical chapbook-chapters are set to soft, elegant, piano-led electronics-brushed compositions, which only on the Book of Ecclesiastes-bitter “You Won’t B Here” gets near to spry, but then think of that juxtaposition. Without the UK hype for Perfume Genius when it was released past February, this disc could easily have fallen through the cracks as a seemingly underdeveloped Grandaddy-ballad sounding fusion of warbled, cracked vulnerability with Larry Clark-movie cutting and doping imagery, instead of hiding in a band or hanging at the mall.
So why should you care? The critics who say that the brief ten tracks go from reed-slender experiments in slight gospel, arid ambient, or naif-folk in to full on can’t-forget-David-Lynch-producing-Hidden-Cameras moments are hitting it pretty well. The obvious high points are strangely reminiscent of a depressive Danielson fallen off the wagon of religion and wandering aimlessly through a battering Hollywood alley, bearing more heartbreak than is humanly possible. I sort of want to taunt it and personal coach Hadreas into fighting back, but the loveliness of his description of the loss of a mother mourning her daughter in “When”, or the story about caring for siblings falling apart in “Write To Your Brother” just make me want to drink wine and weep with him.
This is fragile soul music for fragrant spirits, and if anything, reminds the hyped-out music fans that a little can go a long way even in very young hands if enough talent is brought to it. I have no idea if Hadreas will be able to follow up this level of minimalist storytelling; I doubted that at first, with as sparse and tremble-legged as this seems to sound. But as the soundtracks to another world unfold after a few dozen listens, it’s possible he might be capable of going off in any direction pretty strongly at this point.