Having released four amazing albums in the last decade, Perfume Genius has manifested himself as a celebrated queer icon on the margins of the art pop mainstream. Each album has garnered acclaim by critics as some of the best albums of the decade, and songs from his various works have been heard in numerous soundtracks. The hype surrounding what will come next has grown since 2017’s No Shape, but now the wait is finally over. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, his fifth album released via Matador, was released today.
The album was created during and after a formative collaboration with Seattle-based choreographer Kate Wallich and her dance company The YC, on a performance called “The Sun Still Burns Here”. Hadreas spent nearly a year developing text and movement alongside Wallich, and the warmth and tenderness that such an intimate project entails permeate through this album. Although the songs still deal with concepts of masculinity, gender roles, love, sex, and physicality, the sound is more approachable and melodic than on the previous records without losing its great artistic complexity. The album was recorded in Los Angeles, where Hadreas currently resides. As with the predecessor, he and his long-time partner Alan Wyffels worked with Grammy-nominated producer Blake Mills.
"Whole Life" focuses on Hadreas' vulnerable voice, while behind him the music intensifies from simple piano accompaniment to a sound surface dominated by strings. The song also features some interesting dissonance, and the mixture between the experimental production and intimate vulnerability sets the tone for the upcoming tracks. However, the record also has real bittersweet pop songs too. "On the Floor", the second single, is dynamic and danceable, but beyond its sharp synthesizers and deceptively lush harmonies the vocals are almost painful in their seriousness.
Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is an album that flourishes in its own contrasts. Hadreas' falsetto is set alongside spinet accompaniment on the ballad "Jason", which tells of an encounter with a man who didn't even bother to take off his clothes during sex. It is reminiscent of Hadreas' earlier masterwork “Mr. Peterson”, which also dealt with the discovery of queerness. But where that song reveled in its lo-fi simplicity, “Jason” is packaged as a lush baroque pop song from the 1960s. The haunting "Nothing At All" is convincing in the way that Hadreas utilizes his deeper vocal range. The song also showcases how the extensive instrumentation is constantly rearranged and reinterpreted, helping to make this album such a worthy listen.
"Your Body Changes Everything" on the whole is an absolute gem. Hadreas uses the best side of his voice, while the fleeting violin strings give the already high tempo of the music an extra layer of tension. Every whistle and beep in the song has been used with unprecedented precision while at the same time sounding free and uninhibited. In addition to many classic instruments and pop tones, there are even some steel guitars in casual "Without You". The theme of Set My Heart on Fire Immediately are blurring boundaries between physical and psychological closeness, which is particularly moving on the minimalist track "Touch Me Deep". The song acts as a pause on a record where a lot often happens at once.
Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is an album straight from the heart of Mike Hadreas. By embracing versatility and experimentation the best sides of him as an artist appear here. Genius? He certainly justifies that.