Perfume Genius’s fifth album ‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’ has received widespread critical acclaim since it’s release in May. The Guardian gave it 5 stars, Pitchfork – 9/10, and aggregator Metacritic gives the album a rating of 91/100 (indicating universal acclaim). The album is bold and experimental and, while it’s main focus is on relationships, it touches on a range of topics – from, spirituality to the human body to sexuality.
‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’ grabs listeners attention from the get-go, with the first lyric of the first song showcasing the vulnerability and rawness that has come to define Perfume Genius’s music (“Half of my life is gone / Let it drift and wash away”).
Much of this album has a sound that borders between being dream-like and nightmare-ish. The contrast between these two qualities is showcased best on fifth track ‘Leave’, which begins with the luscious playing of a harp before Perfume Genius (real name: Mike Hadreas) sings the words “set my heart on fire immediately”; his vocals heavily, electronically distorted. Much of the album operates in this grey area between dreamy and apocalyptic and, the overall result is that the album has a distinctly disconcerting energy.
This seems appropriate given that Hadreas asks a lot of questions in this album, but gets few answers in return. In sixth track – and second single – ‘On The Floor’, Hadreas asks “How long ’til this washes away? / How long ’til my body is safe? / How long ’til this heart isn’t mine?”. Instead of seeking answers to any of these questions, Hadreas chooses to end the song longingly, singing “I just want him in my arms”.
This, ultimately, is what makes ‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’ stand out – how it throws out profound questions and dilemmas, without ever finding any sort of satisfying answers to them. On this album, Hadreas spends his time pondering his life. For much the album, he longs for a loving partner, while on ‘Some Dream’ he asks if the sacrifices he’s made to make music are worth it (“All this for a song?”) and on final track ‘Borrowed Light’, he wonders if the spirituality he tries to tap into on his music is all bs, and if all there is to life is what we already know (“there’s no secret / Just an undertow”). In this sense, Hadreas’s fifth album embodies the maxim of late-poet Mary Oliver (She wrote in the poem ‘Bone‘, “Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know, our part is not knowing”) and perfectly encapsulates the disconcerting instability of modern-day America.