With an album of so called “piano music,” the artist runs the risk of coming off somewhat pretentious or self-pitying. The stark quality can be beautiful, but when presented as a full album, the listener can be surfeited with the often mournful tone and the album instead becomes melodramatic. However, Perfume Genius avoids this pitfall with great agility, adding other voices to create a fuller sound where songs could have become stagnant and filling the background with a diffuse, but nonetheless enticing sound. The best comparison I can think of would be to Andrew Bird’s song “The Giant of Illinois”: atmospheric, natural, and profound emotion slipping through an affected calm.
The album documents the struggle between resignation and action, between the singer’s wish to give up if only to gain an imperfect peace and the desire to be strong, to overcome, and to be better; apathy and agency. In most of these songs the singer looks back, either with longing or regret, and is paralyzed to some degree by his memory. In “Take me Home” he relinquishes all power to someone, hoping that this person will solve his problems. Worn down, he resigns. However in other songs, such as the title track “Put Your Back N 2 It” the singer promises that today he will be better, stronger, and able to stand the world. In “Dark Parts” the tempo is noticeably faster, the song progresses from stage to stage faster than all the others and seems to connote an angry opposition simmering under a joyful sound to apathy and feeling powerless. Towards the end the song slows again, the singer gets to what he has been trying to say. He will be “stronger” and “take the dark parts into my heart.” Regardless of which wins out, the multitude of songs which uses a face of apathy and calm to hid inner turmoil or the few tracks of tormented hope of a new start, it seems that the optimism of the singer, though suppressed, is impossible to suffocate.
The album’s “hit track” would have to be “Hood.” Here instead of calm piano trills and atmospheric background noise, here drums are brought to the forefront, backing up the more robust and folk-ish piano chords. The singer seems roused for the first time from his numb calm by his own weakness. Anger at having fucked up is obvious from the first lyrics “you would never call me baby if you knew the truth.”
Many of his other tracks take a more detached approach, such as in “Normal Song” in which he says goodbye, reminding his friend of loose ends that need tying up while assuring him of the transience of pain and man. One of the rare uses of guitar as the leading melody and its simple folk-ish rhythm implies the unmentioned joy that comes from leaving behind everyone you know to experience complete independence, the zen of moving on.
All in all, a great album and deserves an illegal download.