Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas has forever been wracked with pain, openly dealing with Crohn’s disease, evil family members, and the honest emotions of being out and gay at an early age. Working through dance, movement, and free-but-structured choreography, then, offered something of a healing quality with its physical and psychological immersion and lively, quick-thinking intelligence.
When teaming with choreographer Kate Wallich for her dance piece The Sun Still Burns Here—commissioned by the Seattle Theatre Group and Mass MoCA—Perfume Genius’ always-limber but often-fussy musicality became more muscular, soulful, and sinewy. To that end, the sonic vibe of Ugly Season, featuring music developed for Wallich, and co-produced by Blake Mills with Hadreas’ long-time partner Alan Wyffels, is akin to Perfume Genius’ last album and its experimental, earthen elements of chamber art-pop, wonky R&B, spindly goth-industrial, and ever-so-decadent disco. Only more so.
Beginning Ugly Season with a Citizen Kane–like letter of intention, Perfume Genius goes about the business of “rock opera” without much “rock” to speak of. With that, Ugly Season songs such as “Eye in the Wall” and “Pop Song” pulsate to the natural rhythms and rhyme of real-time dance—as free as the silken syncopation of a Sylvester track, but as regimented as any traditional score for plié and ball change—without losing their song-sung feel. Perfume Genius songs always make you sweat, whether from the nervousness conjured through Hadreas’ lyrics (to say nothing of his rubber-band-elastic vocals) or the brittle groove that he displays, especially throughout the new album.
Beyond its formatted tracks, Ugly Season is openly kinetic, pop- and drone-dread-filled in a manner that would make Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground proud, particularly on the harmonium-rich “Herem” and the reeds-filled “Teeth.” This is where you can truly sense Hadreas’ stretching, his experimenting with tone and intention, and always with daring musicality.