Perfume Genius’ debut, Learning, was one of the more captivating albums of 2010, presenting a collection of fragile ballads that creator Mike Hadreas seemed palpably reluctant to share. Since then, Learning’s success has coaxed him out of his suburban isolation and onto tours with the likes of Beirut, and a full recording studio for the follow-up, Put Your Back N 2 It. With its plodding tempo and hushed piano-plunking, the sophomore effort mines the same stark vein as its predecessor, again achieving more by doing less.
Songs such as “Dirge” quietly mesmerize with nothing more than a couple quiet chords, a dash of ambient filler, and Hadreas’ frail croon; similarly, the coolly surreal “Floating Spirit” seeps into the ears with atmospheric synths, a drum machine, and an echoing chant. Here and there, he does expand beyond Learning’s format, as lush arrangements and orchestral flourishes deliver the album’s most dramatic and beautiful moments. It’s a shame he doesn’t experiment more with a fuller sound, however, because much of Put Your Back N 2 It’s bleak mood feels calculated rather than organic.
Hadreas’ minimalism often comes off as compensation for a shortage of ideas; seven of the 12 tracks are less than three minutes long, and many sound incomplete. (Also, while metronomic piano chords are the name of the game, they do eventually get a bit repetitive.) On the plus side, he is a more than a capable songwriter, and most of the record’s foibles can be chalked up to an emerging artist simply trying to find his way. There are signs of Hadreas’ increasing willingness to play off his rising status—the album’s promo video featured a gay porn star and caused controversy when it was rejected by YouTube—and embrace his audience. Put Your Back N 2 It fails at recreating Learning’s tortured confessionals, but its confidence is promising.