After an impressive debut, Learning, Seattle's Mike Hadreas returns with the excellent Put Your Back N 2 It. It's an album that locates power in fragility and tenderness in dissonance, and—for a tight 32 minutes—remains stunningly potent.
Hadreas spins sad and redemptive songs in purposefully oblique fashion. Closer "Sister Song," balanced on a plinking, wintery piano figure, could easily serve as a eulogy, rather than the invocation for someone suffering that it seems to be: "Drive on / Drive on / My special one / Don't you stop 'til you know you're gone." Meanwhile, the cryptic lyrics of opener "AWOL Marine" ("If you want your medicine / Show me") swirl in a hazy, dissonant atmosphere.
Hadreas' sexuality—he is openly gay—provides a significant context to both his subject matter and musical approach. The occasionally abject misery at the heart of Learning is overwritten by confidence on Put Your Back N 2 It. Take the marching, lock-step grooving in "Take Me Home," which embraces both comfort and surrender in coupling. Meanwhile, the cacophonous growl of "Dark Parts" gives way to a plaintive piano and Hadreas' reassurances: "I will take the dark part / Of your heart into my heart."
Hadreas is an apt purveyor of dark, lush chamber pop. Ultimately, he presents listeners with a difficult, spirited album of immense beauty and insight.