Don't make any assumptions from its oddly stylised title - Put Your Back N 2 It is a shockingly intimate portrait. Perfume Genius, aka Seattle's Mike Hadreas, has built an album around love in its most raw and pure forms, with all of its shades of dark and light. He has tackled the nature of past demons, explored homosexual relationships, and in contrast to the album's emotional weight, has ultimately pushed forth a sense of hope. The result is a collection of songs which will tug back and forth at you, should you give them the chance. A collection which will thrust you into a world in which, chances are, you will feel both an affinity and a sense of alienation. And that's a perfectly normal response.
For the most part, Back's instrumentation revolves around Hadreas' piano work, occasionally with strings and percussion moving in to aid the tension and release. Luckily, none of it gets close to crossing over into grandiosity - which would only destroy the feeling Hadreas' delicate, wavering voice so consistently crafts. And it's his voice and lyrics that help set Perfume Genius apart from any other, potentially stereotypical, emotive, piano playing artists. There's no sense of emotion for emotion's sake. There's no feigning that vulnerability and openness he makes public. There are more than a few songs where it sounds as if he could simply burst into tears at any moment, and while many may not be able to tolerate that style, for many others it will be a refreshingly honest experience.
“Normal Song”, with all of its slow finger-picked guitar, addresses the strength of the heart to withstand horrible circumstances, and it brings forth a gleam of light. It segues into "No Tear", which also carries positive tones, but then Back brings out “17” and the tone is flipped completely. "17" is perhaps one of the most haunting tracks on the album, simply because of its confronting imagery. Despite its bleakness and the body image issues it describes though, there is a distinct beauty that's inescapable. A beauty of the words, in Hadreas' delivery, and in the shared feelings it represents for many.
This unexpected and shocking beauty that Hadreas regularly draws from the most unlikely of places, is one of the more prominent and genuinely exciting aspects of this album. Once you begin to notice these moments being formed, you start to pay more and more attention.
“Take Me Home” has these refreshing layers of percussion, which make the song sound that much more full. Hadreas seems to push his voice much further than previously here, and while his softened delivery isn't necessarily a problem, the change is well-timed to break things up a bit.
“All Waters” deals with the fears that same-sex couples can experience in a society growing more tolerant everyday. It’s a picture of a time where often such issues are dismissed under the claim that homophobia is largely stamped out - when clearly, even outside of homophobia, there are still problems. Hadreas' vocals swoon and circle, fading out to a whisper and turn "All Waters" into one of the more immediately affective tracks.
As a listener, it's hard to draw away from the intense and confronting songs Hadreas is so adept at building. But that doesn't mean that they're instantly likeable, or that the album hits the nail right on the head. It would be interesting to hear Hadreas deviate from his vocal style, if only to explore the affect he can create even further. You also may have to give yourself time to adjust to Put Your Back N 2 It, and time to understand just what it is you're listening to. But once you do, you'll understand just what all the fuss is about. If you're looking to be moved by a set of sincere, emotional, and confronting songs, this album will be well worth your time.
Review Score: 7.2 out of 10