Perfume Genius - No Shape
When Mike Hadreas sings about “the shape we take”, they are referring to our fleshy cages that move us through this thing. The shape we take, by nature, categorizes. It becomes a cloak that will forever model our treatment to and by others, our societal positioning, and our internal tension with our external casing. Our souls – yes – the gooey true being that only you know, or, if you’d prefer, the collection of accumulated memories, thoughts, and influences smashing into our static hereditary material often combats our shape – if not endlessly rumbling from within it seeking some kind of salvation. On No Shape, the fourth album from Perfume Genius, Hadreas sings to defy these molds, to redraw norms and expectations as a means of coping with our world and the flesh we were born into. It isn’t surprising then, that No Shape is also a spiritual album.
In an interview with NPR, Hadreas discusses the hymn-like nature of opening track “Otherside”, stating, “I never felt included in the magic of the God songs I heard growing up — I knew I was going to hell before anyone ever told me that I was. People found comfort in this all-knowing source, but I felt frightened and found out.” While this strain defined previous works, here, Hadreas gives way to a transcendent, personal relationship with spirituality that now allows for self-preservation. In the grand narrative of Hadreas’ life, you can nearly pinpoint this epiphany. For years, Hadreas struggled with addiction to a multitude of substances, treating their body as a disposable net volleying whatever was thrown into it. “Everything but heroin,” they stated in an interview with The Fader. But shortly before Perfume Genius’ debut Learning, Hadreas sobered entirely. We have been observing this progression ever since. If Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It centered upon an effort to move past scars created by oneself and Too Bright confronted external systems of oppressive conformity, then No Shape goes a step further: it is a cathartic release of these pent up terrors. Nearly a celebration.
“I wanna hover with no shape,” Hadreas sings in their characteristically frail croon on standout “Wreath”. At this, the song’s variables build to the point that you sense that they are rising above the mortal flesh that trapped them for so long, progressing past the point of needless distinction. The music video for “Die 4 You” further revels in this depiction of wasteful flesh - a disgusting, blobby, lump of it observing Hadreas’ slow-motion dancing from stage right. Across the album, we press past the dumbness of basic chemical makeup and laugh while strolling by, “I’m gonna peel off every weight / until my body gives away”.
No Shape is exultant, or at least in its more restless moments a step above melancholy, and the depiction of this state oozes with confidence that is only underlined by the context that surrounds the record. On a Perfume Genius song from 2010, Hadreas sang about a high school teacher who had fallen in love with them, who shared tapes of Joy Division, and who jumped off a building, “Mr. Peterson, I know you were ready to go / I hope there’s room for you up above / or down below”. The weight of that story fit snugly among similarly bleak songs across Learning, but that sort of pain is just not present here. And neither is that bilateral conception of heaven and hell. Here, Hadreas has built a sanctuary entirely their own that will graciously house where others will not. A sanctuary that has something to do with love. On the grounds of this place where once were scraps of tortured flesh are blooming flowers.