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Album reviews
Perfume Genius
Set my Heart on Fire Immediately
Release year:
27 May 2020 / by Calvin Leung (author)

Genres: Art Pop, Chamber Pop


Over the past 10 years, Perfume Genius has achieved an incredible feat in releasing four albums to great critical acclaim, with each one further pushing him into the spotlight. Following up his break out 2014 album Too Bright and 2017’s No Shape (which earned producer Blake Mills a Grammy nomination for Best Producer) Set My Heart on Fire Immediately was released amidst great anticipation and expectations.

It is safe to say that he met said expectations and went well beyond.

Michael Hadreas, the 38-year-old songwriter behind Perfume Genius, has said in interviews that the record is his most personal to date and it shows through his voice. Never has Hadreas’s voice sounded as connected to the lyrics before, lending his music even more layers of drama and dynamics, two things that were hardly lacking in his previous work.

The songwriting on this album also represents some of his best and most direct work to date. Working in tandem with his consistently wonderful voice gives us strong pop ballads such as “Jason”, a song about hooking up with a straight guy at the age of 23 while “Just a Touch” is a song about secret queer relationships. Both songs, while simple in nature, are performed with a level of melodrama and sincerity that is borderline operatic.

While Perfume Genius’s music always contained themes of the queer experience, the songs on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately allow the listener to glimpse into a world that they might not be a part of or have little knowledge in. Stories told through the music feel like personal anecdotes a friend would tell you at a bar, allowing the songs to bridge the gap between the two worlds by showcasing the similarities of the lived experiences. 

No small part of the brilliance of the album comes down to the instrumentals crafted by Hadreas and producer Mills along with in-demand session veterans such as Pino Palladino (John Mayer, The Who), Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Fiona Apple) and indie music sensation Phoebe Bridgers. The songs on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately are dense but not overbearing, intense but not overwhelming. At no point does the songs feel like they have to be rearranged as all the songs fit perfectly into how they are currently constructed, the world has not seen a record so meticulously constructed since Radiohead’s magnum opus OK Computer


The variety of influences on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately also sets it apart from other pop records of recent memory. Moments of country (“On the Floor”), rock (“Describe”), and baroque pop (“Some Dream”) all flow together to create a cohesive final product. While albums with diverse genres often suffer from tonal whiplash, Perfume Genius managed to connect all the songs with an overarching sound.For

For all of the album's strengths however, it can occasionally lean too heavily into self-indulgence. “Leave” is a vague song that is vague to the point where it becomes tiring rather than mystifying. Meanwhile, “Some Dream” feels a little too derivative of piano-driven art-pop artists such as Fiona Apple or Tori Amos.

Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is an aesthetically pleasing pop record that should be regarded as an instant classic, not simply as an album but a piece of art in general. If not for slight inconsistencies in songwriting, it very well has the capacity to be a perfect record. Watch this space, as all signs point to an artist that is about to break through the stratosphere.

Rating: 9.5/10

The author

Calvin Leung

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