“Describe,” the new single from Perfume Genius, opens with the lush, thunderous, bass-heavy wall of sound once glowed down a possible pathway, Emerald City–like, viewed by alternative music after the haze of grunge lifted. In these tones, power and beauty are one, as if this was the only proper way to ever express the eddying depths of human emotion in a pop song. How could others not have realized this?
Alternative rock went in a totally different direction, of course, defined by the jackhammer idiocy of bands that signaled their rebellion by misspelling words such as “Lincoln” and “Corn.” That leaves it up to the likes of Mike Hadreas, the creative force behind Perfume Genius, to demonstrate what could have been, not through retro pandering, but by taking a completely modern tack, picking up as if this is the journey we’ve been on all along. The assurance of the track is breathtaking, as if the step he’s taking stirs no worries because he knows there have been dozens upon dozens before. And when Hadreas’s velvety vocals delicately intone “The lock on the door/ Is barely holding/ Can you just wait here with me?,” its like a novel’s worth of truth packed into a few slender lyrics.
But I’m really only describing the first half of the track. With an elegant pivot, the thunder fades, and the second half of the song is sedate, soothing, probing, drawing on orchestral forms to shape a different kind of emotional landscape. It’s a reflection of Hadreas’s unique talent that these divergent ideas come across as intrinsically, inevitably bound together, like different chambers of the same heart.