A true statement of an artist
Lucy Harbron
13:40 14th June 2022

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Scores are tricky. Despite being a favourite form of so many musical icons, listeners never really know what to do with them. Are we supposed to listen along like they’re just another album in their discography? Or treat them as separate and different, like odd cousins to their real work? In the case of Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, Ugly Season feels essential to understanding the artist.

In a similar vein to artists like Nick Cave, Kate Bush and Keaton Henson — who have also tackled soundtracks and scores — this theatrical work feels like an important arm of Hadreas' legacy. Taking all the things we love about Perfume Genius, from the haunting vocals to the catching instrumentals, and giving them all a wider and braver landscape to explore, the chance to get a little weirder seems to have come like a relief to the artist.

While made to score the theatrical dance production The Sun Still Burns Here in collaboration with choreographer Kate Wallich and visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite, the album was written at the same time as his huge 2020 record Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. And with that in mind, the weird score makes so much sense. Being largely instrumental, there are moments in the score that seem to suggest ideas brewing that found a more realised and structured form on his album. The harsh orchestral sounds of ‘Just A Room’ and ‘Herem’ are reminiscent of the angry guitars on ‘Describe’, while the heavy use of strings on both the score and album seems to tie a direct string between them. So much of Ugly Season feels like it could’ve been slotted into the album as experimental interludes, but maybe the score itself was a necessary playground that will lead to stranger sounds in the future.

Either way, Ugly Season speaks to a confidence and fun in Perfume Genius. While being a purposeful and controlled chaos, the crazy highs and lows throughout feel freeing and visceral. It’s the opposite of nonchalance, as every sound feels heavy with the weight of whole-body intention and excitement. With every beat, you can hear just how much Ugly Season inspired him, like the creak of a door opening up to a whole new world of audial opportunity. 

Designed to accompany a dance performance, the album collapses and comes back together. Moving between the formlessness of largely instrumental tracks like ‘Cenote’ and ‘Teeth’, into something solid and recognisable, moments of pure Perfume Genius avant-pop poke through. Taking shape with strong melodies in unexpected moments, the 2019 tracks 'Pop Song' and ‘Eye In The Wall’ sit in the score perfectly, offering something structured and realised. Regularly providing solid rafts of recognisable ‘music’ in a sea of sound, this is what makes this score so approachable, keeping it tied closely enough to the Perfume Genius identity to allow it to float. 

But it feels silly to even attempt to discuss the merit of the album, as though my measly little view could attempt to speak on a piece of music made purposefully for art as opposed to the regular stream-focussed success. Beyond people's enjoyment and fan reception, Ugly Season is a powerful, bold move, especially coming as his first proper release since the huge acclaim of Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. Shrugging off the pressure regarding what he would deliver next, what would keep the momentum going, what the fans would want — deciding to do something so avant-garde and so heavily art-focussed is a brave move and so perfectly Perfume Genius. 

Ugly Season arrives 17 June via Matador Records.

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Photo: Press