Perfume Genius — No Shape
On No Shape, the fourth and best album from Mike Hadreas — known by his stage name Perfume Genius — the singer-songwriter reinvents himself once again. No Shape pushes the sparkling fuzzed-out glam of 2014's Too Bright into new territory, adding elements of trip-hop and dizzying string arrangements. It's a bolder sound that carries echoes of art-pop polyglots Kate Bush and Björk.
Lyrically, No Shape takes an introspective turn, centering on the queer body and the desire to transcend the limits placed upon it. On the dazzling "Slip Away," Hadreas sings over a thumping electronic beat: "Don't hold back, I want to break free/ God is singing through your body/ And I'm carried by the sound." In the song's explosive chorus, he adds, "They'll never break the shape we take/ Baby let all them voices slip away." These voices haunt Hadreas on No Shape. Real or imagined, they represent the painful things queer people often hear and tell themselves. In transcending them, Hadreas takes a bold, empowering turn that exalts queerness for its inherent beauty; the cathartic "Wreath" does the same, building momentum over a sparkling synth arpeggio as Hadreas sings,"Burn off every trace/ I wanna hover with no shape/ Running up that hill/ I'm gonna peel off every weight/ Until my boy gives away/ And shuts up."
But on the album's final song "Alan," all frustrations and hardships clear away. Cloaked in ambient noise and delicate piano, Hadreas sings a beautiful tribute to his long-term partner and collaborator Alan Wyffels. "Did you notice/ We slept through the night/ Did you notice babe/ Everything is alright/… I'm here/ How weird." It's a poignant scene, demonstrating how love's conventional moments can feel hard-won and even strange for queer people. No Shape is rich with these moments, showcasing the tender beauty that awaits us on the other side.
Slowdive — Slowdive
Reunion albums are often depressing. When bands return after years of dormancy, the possibility of new music is always met with skepticism. Blame it on nostalgia or unfair expectations, but it's often a challenge for bands to release albums as memorable as their cherished classics.
But every once in awhile, a beloved act returns with new music that lives up to their past accomplishments. Nearly three years since their reunion, British shoegaze legends Slowdive return with a new self-titled record, their highly anticipated fourth album and first since 1995's Pygmalion.
Slowdive builds on the strengths of noise-pop classic Souvlaki and the ambient electronica of Pygmalion to build a set of irresistible and dreamy songs. The sound is unmistakably theirs: cavernous reverb, gorgeous guitar lines and the beautiful vocal harmonies from singers Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell fill each song with dreamy bliss. The album's first single "Star Roving," complete with a colossal four-chord riff and punching bass, is a pure adrenaline rush that outpaces anything they've ever written.
Slowdive manages the rare feat of being familiar to long-time fans while sounding contemporary. The songs on Slowdive unfurl gently, whether building to thrilling heights like on "Star Roving" or enveloping the listener in the warm ambience of "Slomo." Underneath the atmospherics, these songs are replete with irresistible melodies.
On "Don't Know Why," drummer Simon Scott's percussive blitz gives way to a stunning guitar riff. The looping bass and warm synths on ballad "Sugar for the Pill" lulls listeners with a trance-like melody, building to a near-climax and then rebuilding itself with chiming guitars. Small moments like these showcase the album's weightless and textured arrangements, culminating in subtle beauty that rewards repeat listens.
With Slowdive, Halstead and company have cemented themselves as the finest act of the genre they helped to create. Slowdive's effortless dream-pop is an excellent and unexpected addition to a near-flawless catalog.