This album, Perfume Genius's second, sounds like a still-moment widescreen car-crash at first — a horrifying accident beautifully caught by gleaming, descending keys and soft male siren voice. "AWOL Marine" is Mike Hadreas at his most ethereal, the art of ghosting other lost souls musicalized. Put Your Back N 2 It then smokes out that slive of a song, and another reed-thin fragment flickers by: "Normal Song," with more lyrics about nursing the chronic, swooning over the sick, but this time, for the first time for PG, it's gently croaked over twangy acoustic guitar.
The third, "No Tear," is when Antony of Antony & The Johnstons comes in for a bit of a duet, in which the suffering abides by grace. And then Mike's own voice sounds even more like Art Garfunkel's — which presents a problem. The rest of the album is inarguably gorgeous, full of resignation yet pulling out of black despair. But there's no tough Paul Simon stoicism, embrace of worldly anxiety to rise above.
Perfume Giant's first album, Learning, was a dusty padded manilla package full of brokenness sent by a friend at the end of their rope. It was filled with musical doodles that haunted, transcending the tags of "Xiu Xiu rock" from so many who weep out these wispy keyboard/drum machine-type threnodies. The delight was in the details: The weed-smoking and sharing older boyfriend who jumped off a building and left him a cassette tape of Joy Division, the household substances in place of alcohol impulsively consumed by family members, etc.
Put Your Back N 2 It is about musical vocabulary, not lyrical observations. It's basically a gospel album for those bullied by reality, tortured by gender choices, extinguished by love. I adore it but it doesn't pop out of the mails with black humor and Sharpee drawings, mix tape shared misery. It is behind the glass, face fixed forever in a forlorn grin of sadness and well, sadness. A little bit more humor, less preoccupation with lushness, and I may have been inspired to write this review a month ago. Beauty should never be this hard of a slog, but I don't deny that PG's follow up is indeed a beautiful creation.