No Shape is the fourth album from Perfume Genius, the stage name of solo artist Mike Hadreas. And it’s amazing. Hadreas has refined his vocals and the sound of the album to give a beautifully crafted, downright atmospheric experience. No Shape is simultaneously quiet and loud, tender and driving, a force of musical power which shines the brightest in it’s still moments.
The album opens with a one-two punch: “Otherside” and lead single “Slip Away.” Both songs play with sound wonderfully. Hadreas starts the song off quietly, almost unnoticeable before building up into this giant explosion of music, a beautiful swell of sound as the previously simple synths are pushed to new, glittering heights. “Slip Away,” being the lead single, is much more conventional than the rest of the album, but Hadreas doesn’t conflate conventional with boring. That quiet to loud motif is present but so many interesting things are done with the individual components of the sound. The pushing percussion keeps the song pulsing forward at a rapid pace, the vocals are layered in a way that sounds almost ethereal, and the piano line downright sparkles at the end.
No Shape is a technical masterpiece. Everything about this album sounds amazing. The layers are perfect, the balance is even, you can tell that Hadreas and everyone in the studio went over this thing with a fine toothed comb just to make certain everything is in place and sounds top notch. Nothing sounds off, the way that some more hastily mixed albums might be. I can’t under-state the fact that this album just sounds great and the sound quality brings the already good songs to new heights.
It really is a testament to the amazing vocal quality of this album that some songs don’t sound as silly as they could be. Elements are certainly dated: “Just Like Love” features a few elements that on their own, seem worryingly 1980s (the guitars, that odd backbeat) but when combined and contrasted manage to seem fresh and new. Songs like “Go Ahead” seem to take the ‘pick a random keyboard setting, pick a random backbeat’ approach: they sound odd and disjointed. The backing occasionally sounds noticeably weird. However, the layering of Hadreas’s voice on top of itself and in unique sound combinations saves the songs from coming off as too kitschy or odd for oddness sake.
Based on the above paragraph, you wouldn’t expect one of the album’s highlights to be a fairly traditional love song. And yet, it is. The album’s final song, “Alan,” is a beautiful, longing ode to Hadreas’s boyfriend of eight years. The song is deceptively simple: there’s less than fifty words in the whole piece. However, Hadreas draws out each word, teasing those phrases to new heights. Two words take up at least ten seconds: Hadreas fills them with so much heartfelt emotion that it never feels gimmicky or lazy. It’s sincere and dramatic, drama created by these teased phrases and the more conventional and slightly symphonic backing. It’s haunting in some respects but certainly beautiful. Ending the album on such a soft and tender note is an amazingly brilliant move: “Alan” deserves it’s own space to shine and the placement on the album lets it do so.
When it was released back in May, No Shape gained critical praise from outlets such as Pitchfork and The Guardian. It deserves all the praise it gets. No Shape is a beautiful, tender love song of an album, taking ethereal sounds and amazing vocals and building them up to a climax of beauty. Give it a listen: you won’t regret it.