Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, the fifth album from Perfume Genius, is a collection of emotionally charged chamber pop that draws the listener in with its catchy pop hooks and then rewards repeat listening with empathetic tales of introspection. Reteaming with producer Blake Mills, Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) shares poetic musings about love, memory, masculinity, and sexuality.
Lead single “Describe” finds Hadreas in the depths of despair, asking someone to describe the better times that he can no longer remember. “His love, it felt like ribbons; an echo in the canyon,” Hadreas sings in a raspy whisper over grimy distorted guitars. “Can you just find him for me? Can you describe them for me?” he asks in the final chorus.
“Jason, there’s no rush,” Hadreas sings on “Jason,” his voice a grainy falsetto. “Letting in some love where there always should have been some.” Swirling synthesizers, a dramatic orchestral string section, and ethereal harpsichord give a whimsical quality to the song about sexual experimentation.
“On the Floor” is the album’s greatest earwig, with a retro 80s pop vibe and a propulsive dance beat. Funky bass and synths drive the infectious song about Hadreas longing to see his lover again. “How long ‘til this washes away? How long ‘til my body is safe?” Hadreas sings awash in reverb and sunny synthesizers. “How long ‘til this heart isn’t mine?”
Though the album is heavy in synthesizers and other digital sounds, Hadreas works various other influences into the mix as well. “Without You” has an Americana sound, full of acoustic guitar strums and steel guitar, while “Your Body Changes Everything” contrasts a pulsing retro synth line with string and wind instruments.
The slow, brooding waltz of “Moonbend” has an eerie quality, Hadreas harmonizing with Phoebe Bridgers — one of several songs to which she contributes – in a slow drawl, the vocals lazily reaching for the next note in the sparse musical landscape.
“Some Dream” is one of the album’s most dynamic tracks. The first half is a plodding piano ballad. “She calls out for me but never loud enough,” Hadreas sings, the sporadic piano line punctuated by brief, jarring bursts of rumbling distortion. Midway through the song, gritty guitars crash to the forefront, transitioning to a mid-tempo rock song. “All that time I spent perfecting my look, now there’s nobody around,” he sings over a fuzzed-out guitar lick.
The slow, contemplative songs on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately are hit or miss. Most are moving mood pieces with intricate melodies, while some are bland and skippable. The best Perfume Genius moments are with the dynamic upbeat pop songs, jam-packed with hooks and danceable grooves. Throughout the album, Hadreas forms complex sonic textures out of the thoughts tormenting his psyche. The result is an album that thrills at times, invites quiet reflection at others, but is always interesting.