Perfume Genius Rides The New Prog Pop Wave



They say that artists are more creative during turbulent times, and today’s Rock Music scene is providing living proof. I can’t even begin to list the number of artists who are pushing the envelope a little harder and a little further than they ever did before, which makes for a pretty vibrant scene these days.

I’m particularly fascinated by this increasingly popular strain of sonic experimentation that conjures up visions of early-Seventies Prog Rock. Sufjan Stevens’ new indie supergroup Planetarium certainly seems to be channeling mid-70s Genesis, and then you’ve got bands like Alt-J who seem to be hovering somewhere between Prog and Pop. Let’s call it the New Prog Pop.

It’s not really Prog because it doesn’t have big, epic solo sections and there’s no death-defying musical virtuosity, but it is keyboard-dominant, it is orchestral and melodic, and it shows a big dynamic range within songs that are often split into sections – all somewhat reminiscent of Prog back in the day.

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Perfume Genius is another band falling into this New Prog Pop category, and their fourth album No Shape, released earlier this summer, has been a critical and popular breakthrough, making them a band to watch. It is an excellent album, and as an aside I’ve got to say it’s a great band name, the two words together carry plenty of meaning like a two-word poem.

But Perfume Genius is not really a band per se, it’s mostly the work of Mike Hadreas, who’s a talented songwriter with a really compelling singing voice that falls somewhere between Marty Balin, Damon Albarn and Phil Collins on the vocal spectrum. There are some startlingly good moments on the album as Hadreas wends his way from ethereal atmospherics to huge proggy fanfares to crowd-pleasing modern Rock choruses, revealing influences like Genesis, Roxy Music and Kate Bush along the way.

In fact the single “Wreath” contains a direct lyrical shout-out to Kate Bush:

Burn off every trace
I wanna hover with no shape
I wanna feel the days go by
Not stack up

Running up that hill
I’m gonna call out every name
Until the one I’m meant to take
Sends her dove

Hadreas is a skilled wordsmith but his lyrics lean heavily to the darker side, not surprising considering he was beaten and terrorized as a youth for being gay in rural Washington State. On top of that, the poor guy suffers from Crohn’s disease, and he said that “Wreath” was about wishing to leave his body and live outside the confines of illness and gender. It’s a powerful song on a very good album, and the video is great to watch, the result of him asking fans to send video of themselves dancing to the song. One thing the video makes clear: New Prog Pop fans come in all shapes and sizes and ages. Let’s hope it’s here to stay.

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