Mike Hadreas' work as Perfume Genius, no matter how conceptual, has always been of the heart and body. On his fifth and latest record, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, Hadreas presents a newfound depth missing from his previous releases. Where he proudly proclaimed his identity as an effeminate gay man on 2014's Too Bright, 2017's No Shape reveled in the ambiguity of everyday life. Though Set My Heart touches on similar themes of his past two LP's, it does so with a certain poetry and openness that makes these ideas new and fresh. In Hadreas' hands, repeated topics (effeminacy, queer love, everyday life) don't dull with repetition. Rather, they are a well of inspiration to return to again and again.
These new songs, which cycle through like the hours of the day, changing colors with the sky, still feel timeless in their expression of convoluted, queer, human desire. Take, for example, the second single "On the Floor," which sounds like a gay rendition of Van Morrison's "Brown–Eyed Girl." This early–evening rocker, which wouldn't sound out of place on a dinner playlist, is placed near the middle of the record. Its placement makes sense on the album, arriving right after the creepy sunset torch of "Leave," a track reminiscent of "Choir" from No Shape. While "Choir" drew its tension from skyrocketing violins and its almost too–close–for–comfort vocals, "Leave" does so from deep, whispered Elvis Presley–like, similarly intimate vocals, and its waning, rotating, tender harp. Hadreas has said that he sequenced "On the Floor" directly after "Leave" like "seasons." He also likes to sometimes "pair similar vibes like sisters."
"Moonbend" is the haunting centerpiece of the album, evoking a ghostly midnight blue. Its instrumentation calls to mind fairies waltzing in A Midsummer's Night Dream forest. The song is reminiscent of No Shape's "Every Night" and Too Bright's "I'm a Mother," fitting in neatly with Hadreas' personal tradition of leaving in a song or two on each of his records that sounds "supernatural." According to Hadreas, "Moonbend" "feels like a spell." "Without You," a spry, bright, green, and happy–sad ditty that wouldn't sound out of place on Joni Mitchell's Clouds, stands out the most in direct contrast of "Moonbend." Only the third song on the album, "Without You" is also the most clearly defined "daytime" song, carried by its bright–eyed guitar work and blue–sky spirit.
"Some Dream"—the penultimate track of the album—titularly calls to mind dreams one has before waking. The song's structure mirrors that state: all spliced and incoherent and filled with the raw stuff of life. It results in one of Hadreas' most rousing pieces of music to date. On an album as strong as Set My Heart, it is hard to determine highlights, since they are abound. Personally, I would note "Nothing at All," and "Your Body Changes Everything," for their sensual bass lines and the raw lust that propels them forward, but every song on this record is worth one's full attention.
Set My Heart is nakedly human at its core, placing vulnerability and delicate insight into the human condition like flowers in the listener's hair. The first track, "Whole Life," sees Hadreas reckon with mortality. That central vulnerability is immediately established, only for it to be picked up twelve tracks later by the closer of "Borrowed Light." The lyrics confront mortality once again and question the gifts that Hadreas has given to this world through his music, or, as he so aptly puts it, his "borrowed light." The track glistens like the morning sun after a long night, its cymbals sparkling like dewdrops on blades of grass. In a similar vein, on "Otherside," the opening track from No Shape, listeners were greeted with a shimmering wall of sound, overwhelming the senses with tactile synths. The songs on Set My Heart still shimmer, leaving the audience in awe, but those shards of lucidity are made interior. This intrinsic expression of life makes the record so poignant: Perfume Genius' Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is a fragile, queer document of humanity.