Experimentation is essential for the evolution of an artist’s style to create distinction between each subsequent work and encourage the audience to return and experience the new side of the artist. The catch-22 is that experimentation can often backfire just as much as it can do wonders. On the follow-up to his 2017 Grammy-nominated album, No Shape, indie pop sensation Mike Hadreas, better known as Perfume Genius, takes risks that don’t quite pay off for a satisfactory and cohesive album on Set My Heart On Fire Immediately.
Like his previous work, Hadreas’ album continues Perfume Genius’ exploration of themes like love, sex, memory and body; accompanied by his signature piano melodies and vocal harmonies. He incorporated elements from several genres throughout the hour-long production, such as classic, hard and industrial rock, as well as baroque pop. The inclusion of more classical instruments offer a significant change of pace from the more synth-heavy style of his last album.
Songs like “Without You” and “Nothing at All” have this free-spirited driving rock quality to them with an infectious tempo that is both soothing and engaging. “Jason,” “Leave” and “Just a Touch” all incorporate elements of baroque pop through the use of violins, harpsichord, cello and harp—all accentuated with background ambient tones.
Lead single “On the Floor” uses a bluesy swing tempo accompanied with warping electric guitar riffs and background organs. “Some Dream” starts out as a sleepy piano and acoustic guitar track before transitioning into a ’90s grunge rock sound with a heavy distorted electric guitar. However, the smorgasbord of clashing stylistic choices, especially when they occur mid-song, becomes highly distracting and often serves to undermine what could’ve made exceptional songs.
The thematic significance of memory feels like a sly way dodging the derivative nature of many tracks on the album. Opener “Whole Life” feels like an attempt to recreate the magic of Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met.” Both acts had songs featured on “13 Reasons Why,” which might explain why the track sounds as melancholy as it does.
“Some Dream” is clearly inspired by ’90s alt rock bands like Semisonic (just think “Closing Time”). Hadreas’ vocals can be difficult to make out on “Moonbend” when he’s hitting some of the higher notes, and accompanied with the distorted violin tones that become kind of irksome when they wash in and out with the vocals.
Much like a child who goes to a restaurant to fill his soda cup with seven different flavors only to be disappointed when the resulting concoction just isn’t as satisfying as a regular drink, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately has many individual moments that stand out as exceptional isolated pieces. But the lack of consistency throughout the album makes it feel like it was hastily put together, especially in contrast with Hadreas’ previous albums, where he displayed his ability to tighten his focus and really deliver sentimental songs that worked well together.
Perhaps, breaking up and releasing a few tonally similar songs as individual EPs at a time would have served to strengthen the vision for each niche Hadreas sought to fill.
Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.