On Perfume Genius' previous albums, Mike Hadreas revealed so much of himself that it's difficult to imagine he'd have more to uncover. With Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, however, he goes beyond baring his soul to exploring the power and tenderness of the body. Before making this record, Hadreas collaborated with choreographer Kate Wallich and her dance company the YC, not just writing the music for her piece The Sun Still Burns Here but performing in it as well. This collaborative, body-oriented way of making art had a profound impact on his fifth album. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is more theatrical and more direct than much of Perfume Genius' earlier work, and revels in the physicality of his music in inspired ways. The album's textures are almost tangible, particularly on "Describe"'s thick distortion and flowing slide guitars, and with the standout "On the Floor," he delivers the kind of irresistibly bouncy, joyous longing that's impossible not to dance to. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately reunites Hadreas with producer Blake Mills, whose work on 2017's breathtaking No Shape earned a Grammy nomination. Once again, the pair covers lots of musical ground, subverting rugged Americana and sweeping, nostalgic melodies that have decades of emotional resonance behind them. "Whole Life" begins the album with a tremulous sigh and the sheltering drones that defined records like Put Your Back N 2 It before building into lush, almost syrupy symphonic pop majesty and twangy guitars. On the standouts "Without You" and "Nothing at All," Hadreas borrows some of Bruce Springsteen's manly chug and surrounds it with fluttering synths and sparkling pianos, echoing the vulnerability and growing strength within both songs (when he sings "I got what you need, son" on the latter track, it feels like he's talking to himself as much as a lover). More proof that a more physical and immediate Perfume Genius isn't one-dimensional comes with "Jason," a dreamily sensual reverie that recalls Air or Blonde Redhead with its rounded, flowing bass and delicate harpsichord, and "Moonbend," where flute, acoustic guitar and ever-so-slightly eerie harmonies come together as gracefully as a ballet. Frequently, Hadreas buries his voice in the mix on the album -- a daring choice for such an empathetic singer and lyricist, but one that conveys how engulfing his emotions are. On the mesmerizing "Leave," strings overtake Hadreas' wordless murmuring in a wave of passion that lives up to Set My Heart on Fire Immediately's name. The demanding, commanding nature of that title makes itself felt on songs as different as "Your Body Changes Everything"'s dark swagger or the breathy pleas of "Just a Touch." All the nuances of desire that Hadreas explores on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately enhance the individuality of each song, as well as his own individuality -- and as he honors every part of his music and himself, he gives listeners another rich, densely packed album to savor.
Set My Heart on Fire Immediately Review
by Heather Phares