The record’s opener, "Otherside", teases at a soft and tender beginning, but quickly erupts into an avalanche of sound. The abrupt transition from sparse to vast instrumentation is unlike anything I have heard in a single song. "Slip Away" follows up as another boisterous moment. Loud percussion backs the upbeat and catchy vocals. Besides the drums, this is one of the more conventional instrumentals on the project.
Hadreas continues the strong start with one of the album’s best songs, "Just Like Love". It’s a sweet and warm romance tune with a strong groove. Instrumentally, there’s a lot going on. Strings you would hear on a Beatles song accentuate the track, along with a driving guitar behind the chorus, and light, bubbly percussion. However, the record hits its first roadblock on "Go Ahead". The heavy and oddly-timed percussion is such a strange transition from the smooth sound of "Just Like Love". No Shape is a versatile album, but this is certainly a case where the different styles greatly clash. Despite its faults, "Go Ahead" still has strong singing from Hadreas and a surprisingly funky bass line.
The album rebounds with the two more tracks that close out the first half. "Valley" is another soft take, with some lovely acoustic guitars and my favorite vocals of the record. Hadreas employs a lot of vocal shifts for a really interesting sound. The piano and plucked strings also add instrumental depth to the song. "Wreath" is another bright and inspiring moment. The chorus is catchy, and raised up by booming guitars before each line. The track ends with a long-winded vocal chant and a hypnotic rhythm.
The second half of the album is a much quieter experience, and that begins with the song, "Every Night". Once again the instrumental feels hypnotic with repetitious phrases. The singing from Hadreas is both beautiful and tragic. "Choir" is the most interesting and experimental point of the project. The choral instrumental is gorgeous with constant strings and a haunting choir. Hadreas provides a strange, spoken-word passage that gives a strong sense of the supernatural, which Mike has listed as inspiration for the song.
"Sides" provides the only guest appearance on the album, with a verse from female vocalist Weyes Blood (Natalie Merling). The melody is strong with a distorted guitar as the prominent feature. Halfway through the track Merling enters, and it shifts to a more atmospheric and spacious beat. Her vocal performance sounds fantastic and matches well with the music.
After ten solid tracks, "Braid" marks the album’s weakest efforts. While Hadreas sounds just as strong as a performer, it is the most uninteresting instrumental passage of the record. While the next song, "Run Me Through", is a lot more interesting with some jazzy elements, it is surrounded by two of the slowest songs. On the album’s closer, "Alan", Hadreas went in a more simple direction. But it feels underwhelming when compared to "Otherside". I can’t help but feel that "Alan" is similar to the album’s opener, but without that grand musical statement that it became. Put together, the last three cuts run too quiet and sparse. It clashes with the vibrant first-half and spoils some of the record’s momentum.
Whether you enjoy the experimental side of pop or not, No Shape is worth a listen just for the sake of hearing something completely new and original. Lyrically it’s a very personal experience, and musically it does not hold anything back. Placing the album into any single category is a difficult task, and it certainly benefits from multiple listens. Regardless, Mike Hadreas under the Perfume Genius name is certainly one of the more unique songwriters working right now.
Favorite Tracks: "Otherside", "Slip Away", "Just Like Love", "Valley", "Wreath", "Choir", "Die 4 You", "Sides"
Least Favorite Tracks: "Go Ahead", "Braid"