The collision between acoustic instrumentation and crackerjack manufacturing makes for a lush and widescreen expertise. Mills’ harmonium on “Herem” bubbles with dread from the music’s swirling brew earlier than programmed drums carry the association to a cathartic end; clarinet swells provide an immense second of bliss on “Enamel”; Hadreas’ sighing vocals on “Pop Music” flip to playful coos when chimes and percussion bang into the combo. In comparison with earlier albums, such rousing peaks are much less quick, on tracks that stretch previous the seven-minute mark and go away choruses within the mud. Spend time with this music, although, and its glimmers of hooky magnificence go away a profound impression, like watching a peacock preen and flash its magnificent plumage for a second at a time.
At factors, Ugly Season jogs my memory of Prince’s 1986 album Parade, one other rating that outgrew its supply materials, balancing forward-thinking highs with an off-the-cuff, elusive, disjunctive construction. Rather than Prince’s buoyant eroticism, Fragrance Genius’ stylistic smorgasbord treats intercourse like a languid affair, one which befits the file’s different preoccupation: unhappiness. Formally, the album appears to crumble in its center. “Scherzo,” an unadorned piano composition by Wyffels, serves as a melancholic comedown after the primary suite of songs. This unusual little bit of sequencing sutures the wound in Ugly Season’s center, as if Hadreas desires you to see the stitches.
Much less narrative than ever, his lyrics shine with a symbolic vocabulary rooted in homosexual tradition. He usually compares our bodies to crops and fruits: “Stretched out like a reed,” he sings on “Herem,” and on “Pop Music,” he instructions us to “harvest the pit/And spit out the remainder.” He views intercourse as a magic ritual on a few tracks, and on “Enamel” he harkens again to the identical Nineteenth-century context wherein a gay id started coalescing within the West. “A fading garland,” he describes: “A cranium set on a plate.” For the primary time, Fragrance Genius sings in still-lifes, and formally, the album displays this identical focus—wordless nearer “Cenote” echoes the primary observe’s opening notes on an easier setup of solo piano, like a gallery displaying the examine of a piece alongside its completed canvas.
Ugly Season does have a single narrative gem, among the many best Hadreas has reduce. “Hellbent” reprises the character of Jason, the informal lover of a confused narrator, from the eponymous spotlight of Fragrance Genius’ final album. “They took my telephone,” the speaker intones, maybe as a result of he simply escaped from rehab. Alone on the roadside, bleeding from his arm (due to a boozy fall, we think about), he clings desperately to the heartbreaking perception that he can allure his hookup into providing him assist. “First automobile to cease/Simply took one look and drove,” he spits, and tells us a number of minutes later, “If I make it to Jason’s and placed on a present/Perhaps he’ll soften and provides me a mortgage.”
Right here, Fragrance Genius channels the empathy that drew us to his tunes within the first place, chronicling his character’s chaos by balancing a first-person sneer with the lucidity of distance and maturity. Hadreas, who jump-started his music profession after he turned sober in his late twenties, has already mastered this type of songwriting. But the impact feels newly pressing on the atmospheric Ugly Season, like a buried, hurtful reminiscence that begins pulsing once more via the haze of time. Pop music tends to supply the lozenge of amnesia to simply about everybody, permitting even homophobes and homosexual individuals to blot out their variations, if just for three minutes at a time. Hadreas refuses to fabricate such tablets for his followers. His sprawling post-pop attracts our consideration to the various methods wherein altering ourselves can by no means resolve our recollections of the previous, posing an implicit query: Can we really go away behind the individuals we’ve been, or have we merely realized to maintain our eyes fastened on the promise of self-reinvention?
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