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Perfume Genius Learning
Released 21 June 2010
Producer Perfume Genius
Label Turnstile
Length 28:42
Genre Indie
Website www.myspace.com/kewlmagik

Learning is the debut album from Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas), an album written as a form of catharsis for a catalogue of harrowing incidents he has encountered throughout his life, namely abuse, addiction and suicide. With subject matter as dark as this it runs the risk of being too insular, making it impossible for the listener to relate to the songs. Learning avoids this pitfall by investing the songs with the faintest sense of hope instead of wallowing in self pity.

The template is straightforward; one man and his piano, an appropriate combination to match the mood. The piano parts are quite basic, usually chords or arpeggios that keep the music moving without stealing the spotlight. It’s unclear whether this is the limit of Hadreas’ talent as a musician but it’s a moot point as the music fits perfectly. Production on Learning is minimal; a simple reverb added to the piano gives a dreamlike feel to the songs. The piano itself sounds like one of those well used school hall pianos that has seen better days yet retains a certain charm.

So with such basic music and production where is the pay off? Well the easy answer to that is in the vocals. The lyrics are brutal, the album opens up with “No one will answer your prayers / Until you take off that dress”. It’s quite an unsettling way to introduce yourself to the world but it sets the scene for what’s ahead.  'Mr. Petersen' is by far the most revealing track on the album, telling of Hadreas' relationship with his teacher. He recounts how he would receive inappropriate notes back in his school work or would be allowed smoke weed in Mr Petersen's truck as long as he professed his love for him. The lines are delivered in a nonchalant way which is made even more unsettling with the revelation "When I was sixteen / He jumped off a building".

I do not want to overanalyze each track, suffice to say that the album is a mixture of the shocking and the heartbreaking and to dissect each song would take away from the experience for the first time listener. Learning is the kind of album that reminds you of all your own sad times and as the last song fades out to the sound of Perfume Genius clapping, you might just find yourself joining in.

- Brian Kinsella