Mike Hadreas's No Shape is an ode to love

Chamber pop has not had many dexterous proponents of late - you can think of some florid pieces by Rufus Wainwright, the oeuvre of Patrick Wolf and a few pretty oddities of Andrew Bird, but still none can hold a candle to the lurid palette Seattle songwriter Mike Hadreas explores in his fifth album No Shape.

Going by the moniker of Perfume Genius, he has reached a new vertiginous high with this ode to love (of others and of himself).

This comes after 2014's Technicolor emo-pop breakthrough Too Bright as well as the harrowingly bruised balladry of 2012's Put You Back N 2 It and 2010's Learning.

No Shape steps out with even sharper stilettos as Hadreas comes out swinging. "Don't look back, I want to break free/If you'll never see them coming/You'll never have to hide," he yelps in Slip Away, a drama-mama song that sweeps the moors like Kate Bush in her Wuthering Heights era.

In fact, he has aptly billed his latest album "body horror Sade, Greek diner Kate Bush, Springsteen in a scrunchie" - a maximalist approach with maximum potential to fail, which is all the more remarkable considering how satisfying the results are.

Hadreas is not interested in limits, but it does not mean things are lax and loose. On the contrary, producer Blake Mills (Laura Marling, Alabama Shakes) marshals the emotional offal into a strange, intoxicating brew. It does not taste like anything you are likely to hear this year.

  • CHAMBER POP

  • NO SHAPE

    Perfume Genius

    Matador

    4/5 stars

"Running up that hill/I'm gonna peel off every weight," Hadreas sings in Wreath, alluding to a song by his heroine Bush, before adding "until my body gives away, and shuts up".

The music meanwhile is an incongruous, sunny mash-up of Victorian kitsch and post-punk, glam theatrics you remember fondly from 1980s/1990s duo Shelleyan Orphan and goth-dream pop collective This Mortal Coil.

Pizzicato strings shadow Choir, a feverish dream where old demons come out to play. "I can't dream/ Something keeps me/Locked and bodied/Pawing at the edge," he whispers, sounding haunted and haunting.

This is followed by Die 4 U, a come-hither dressed up in shades of grey, with piano and vocal accompaniment by his boyfriend Alan Wyffels. "Each and every breath I spend, you are collecting," Hadreas gasps airlessly.

Much as the flashy, stomping, Renaissance-pop accoutrements draw excellent mileage, it is in the layers of quieter tunes that Hadreas' emboldened self-confidence is demonstrated.

Listen to Sides, an emotional tug of war between him and Natalie Mering, the dreamy songstress of Weyes Blood.

"Why still no love?" Hadreas drags each syllable as if stalling time. The melody swirls like synth incense on an already hazy day.

Mering comes in, wise and lucid like a latter-day Laura Nyro. She does not take the bait.

"If it ain't easy to love me/Cut the cord and set me free," she intones and, for that moment, the sun shines, too bright.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'An ode to love'. Print Edition | Subscribe