the difficulty with being a “fan” of elliott smith or xiu xiu lies with how hard it is to “like” the pain and brutality exposed so starkly in their music. the same goes with the debut album by perfume genius, a moniker that thinly veils the confessional songwriting of mike hadreas. while the subject matter is similarly bruised and battered, learning takes a rather different path from smith’s underdog poetry and jamie stewart’s tragic theatrics, opting instead for feeble harmonies more reminiscent of the less ornate offerings of sufjan stevens (heartbreakers like illinoise‘s “casimir pulaski day” come to mind). comparisons aside, learning stands on its own as a record of much sadness, present not only in the words but more pervasively in hadreas’ breath and consequently everything he touches. the simple piano intro of the penultimate track “perry” attempts to clear the air, but only for a moment before the sadness returns with a greater heaviness, which i frankly don’t know how to deal with. – dan.
learning is out now on matador records.