For me 2012 has been dominated and, to some extent book-ended, by two albums, ‘Mr M’ by Lambchop and ‘The Seer’ by Swans. Both are favourite artists of long-standing who have, after many, many years, produced career-defining records. Both albums manage to distill the essence of what has made their creators so important, to me at least, and still move their music on to yet another level of beauty, brutality, virtuosity and wonder (delete as appropriate). I saw both bands play devastatingly brilliant live shows this year. Kurt Wagner and Lambchop were exquisite, care-worn and heartbreakingly beautiful at the Bristol Fleece. Michael Gira and Swans were jaw-dropping, almost jaw-breaking, in their symphonic violence, a pulverising yet ultimately sublime experience which took days to recover from. I’m hopeless at remembering past gigs, but both these shows felt like they would fit comfortably within my top ten all-time list, if only I could recall the other 8.
I’ve already presented ‘Mr M’ to the Record Club and ‘The Seer’ is pretty much twice as long as the upper limit that DRC can tolerate. Which brings me for my record of the year choice, happily, to the second album by Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, which has also been on almost constant rotation this year. Superficially, there is little to bind this record to the other two. It’s a short album, just a little over half an hour, populated by 12 concise songs, most of which are simple sketches for piano and voice. However, Kurt Wagner would surely recognise the timeless delicacy of the songs and M. Gira would certainly appreciate the existential bleakness of the lyrics.
Hadreas has an incredible touch when it comes to melody. These are such simple, delicate, still songs but somehow he manages to breath a warm and fragile life into each. They are, in essence, torch songs, as memorable and beautiful as any, but meticulously drained of melodrama and sentimentality to leave brittle bones and reverberating husks. Within these he lays bare his passion, his self-loathing, his wounds and his desolate desires.
If this year has produced a lyric as bleakly poetic as ’17’ then i’ve yet to hear it. Almost laughable set down on the inner sleeve, in the context of the record it is horrifyingly direct and distressing. If this year has produced a song as heart-stopping as the 2 minutes of ‘Hood’, a moment more vertiginous than that when the drums swell in the middle of this track, then I don’t want to hear it for fear I may swoon clean away.
Hadreas is a rare, if tortured, talent. I have no idea where he may go from here, but ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ is an album which approaches perfection. If Lambchop and Swans built the two major musical monuments of 2012, then Perfume Genius connected the two with a frozen river of votive songs.
Graham listened: I’ve left many a DRC meeting thinking about buying what someone else has brought along and gone on to do so. After listening to this I just knew I had to have it, and with Christmas coming it went straight on my list. Simply astonishing.
Nick listened: Two for two. Emma and I saw Perfume Genius live (albeit very briefly) at ATP earlier this month, and also saw Owen Pallett follow him onstage and enthuse sincerely about how much Hadreas’ music means to him. On first exposure, in a Pontins discotheque, his piano-lead eulogies to youth, emotion, sensation, and regret didn’t come across that well (partly down to the very drunk girl puking on the carpet in front of us), but on record, Perfume Genius’ intimate talents were much more understandable. ‘Hood’, as Rob suggests, was worth the admission price alone. Suspecting that Emma would love the record’s bleak intimacy and simplicity, I bought her a copy last week in The Drift for Christmas. I’m looking forward to listening to it again myself.
Tom Listened: I was really glad that Rob brought Put Your Back In 2 It’ as his album of the year not least because I gave it to him for his birthday! I bought it with next to no knowledge of the band – I had read a few positive reviews and had a cursory listen in The Drift (how many plugs to they get from us nowadays? Surely it’s time to sort out some sort of commission…) to the first couple of tracks and, on hearing track 2 I came to the conclusion it sounded a bit like Will Oldham and would therefore nestle happily amongst the vinyl in Rob’s collection. It turned out that Rob already knew and liked Perfume Genius, that he had already played a track from the debut album at Record Club and, therefore, that I had shown supreme lack of imagination in making my choice of purchase. It also turns out that track 2 – the (ironically(?)) named Normal Song) is a red herring, being a couple of plucked strings on a guitar rather than the piano led torch songs that populate the rest of the album.
I liked the record – it sounded like a more honest, poignant and (much) less theatrical Anthony and the Johnsons (and I much preferred it to I Am A Bird Now, the one AATJ album I own) – but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I sensed Nick and Graham were…yet again I feel this is a record I would quickly grow to love if I spent some time with it, but I wish Hadreas had placed a more equal balance of guitar and piano on the record as I am a complete sucker for a parched acoustic guitar and a plaintive vocal (see the aforementioned Normal Song).