After crafting two acclaimed albums of hauntingly introspective, mostly piano-driven songs, Seattle singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas–better known as Perfume Genius–is blowing up, in more ways than one. First there’s his sound: on his new release Too Bright (out Sept. 23), Hadreas employs fuzzy synthesizers, distorted guitars and ghostly wails. But his lyrics too feel more explosive, tackling queer identity politics and relationships in ways that are more unsettling and confrontational than before–as on the powerful “Queen,” a song about gay panic. “No family is safe when I sashay,” Hadreas sings. It’s the album’s flashiest moment and his biggest sonic departure. While it’s far from the kind of universal material that will set the charts and radio on fire, Too Bright may herald Hadreas’ biggest breakout. Here, he doesn’t just hold your attention–he demands it.
This appears in the October 06, 2014 issue of TIME.