Perfume Genius’s first two albums are nothing if not forceful, marked by highly dramatic, despondently naked songs that might seem sappy were they not so intent on exploring uncomfortable psychological terrain. It’s challenging and deeply felt music, but the lo-fi aesthetic and aggressively confessional approach leaves both 2010’s Learning and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It sounding formless and inapproachable, steamrolling any attempt at differentiating between emotional registers. That changes on Too Bright, in which Mike Hadreas suddenly pivots toward crafting catchy, palatable songs which, while retaining similar lyrical themes, now operate with far more flamboyance and panache, granting the album the feel of a second debut.
It’s hard to say what’s motivated this change, but the new approach makes Hadreas’s existing skills—the vocal dexterity and innate capacity for wrenching pathos from the simplest of lyrics—that much easier to appreciate. Opener “I Decline” starts off in familiar territory to past songs, but its mournful theatrics quickly segue into the vibrant, strutting “Queen,” its modern glam shimmer coming as a total surprise. Full of equivalently startling songs characterized by an impressive level of range, Too Bright is far more fully conceived than any of Hadreas’s prior work, and the elaborate production style makes the newly energetic music that much more interesting. This means that, when he does sporadically return to the basic formula of the shiveringly bare piano ballad, the effect is that much more pronounced, leaving songs like “No Good” feeling distinctively powerful, rather than lost in a sea of similarly toned material.
With the loss of uniformity, however, comes a scattershot method of album construction, and while there’s something refreshing about the drastic differences between songs here, it also undermines any sense of cohesion. The newfound assurance also makes for a few missteps, with songs like “I’m a Mother” and “My Body” twisting into distended, unpleasant forms. But the transformation that occurs on Too Bright is mostly striking, turning Hadreas from a talented bore into a viable musical force. Nothing here sounds revolutionary or even especially distinctive, but Hadreas has successfully conceived of a new context for his raw lyrical approach, opting for a jagged, complex collection of bedroom pop over another sparsely appointed set of torch songs.