The online trailer for Perfume Genius' Put Your Back N 2 It, which featured Mike Hadreas being cradled like a baby in the arms of gay porn star Arpad Miklos, presented the perfect imagery for the growth in Hadreas' music since his debut, Learning.
That album, which combined music that sounded like a bootleg of a piano recital with devastatingly intimate observations about the different ways people hurt each other, felt like a cry in the dark.
Put Your Back N 2 It shows how much Hadreas learned from Learning: it's more confident but still subversive, like the work of someone who's come through troubles stronger and can comfort others.
The unabashedly lush sound of songs such as "AWOL Marine," which, with its sweeping synth strings and piano, feels like a missing piece of Angelo Badalamenti's melodramatic and knowing score for Twin Peaks, only highlights how tremulous Hadreas' voice still is, but he finds strength in his fragility.
On "Normal Song," he reminds listeners that "no violence can darken the heart or tear it apart," but the gently rousing feel of "Take Me Home" and "No Tear" gives a universality to more personal lyrics like "I will carry on with grace/Zero tears on my face." Indeed, a big part of what makes Put Your Back N 2 It's moments of comfort so genuine is that Hadreas is no longer writing as an observer, but as a participant.
This confessional bent underscores the album's feeling of having the courage to be direct, to show flaws and to reach out for intimacy no matter what, all of which comes to the fore on the gorgeous "Hood," a song about fighting self-doubt for love.
And even when Hadreas sings of "this gnarled face" on "17," the song offers more hope than the characters in Learning's songs ever had.
The finest moments here go even further, transforming love into an action rather than just a feeling.
On "Dark Parts," Hadreas comforts a lover about being molested, singing "I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart"; the title track combines tenderness and strength into "love with no hiding"; and most poignantly, Hadreas imagines a day where he can take a lover's hand "on any crowded street with no hesitating fear" on "All Waters," the very song that soundtracked the Put Your Back N 2 It trailer.
While Learning's haunting storytelling remains singular, Hadreas is as brave an artist as ever, and Put Your Back N 2 It is a heartening follow-up in so many ways.