Learning is an apt title for a record that through its crackling, distant songs presents a young man slowly discovering the world around him. None of its characters are perfect, each of them shot through with failings that give them a vulnerability so intensely human. The most open and vulnerable of all is Mike Hadreas, the 21 year-old Seattle native responsible for these immersive vignettes. The songs creak and falter, mostly led by a thin piano, shrouded in buzzing and whispers that flicker around the sides and never truly leave. Hadreas’s voice rises out of this noise, sweetly unfolding his mysterious stories, sometimes directly as in ‘Mr. Peterson’, sometimes with little more than the general sense of regret or depression that sustains ‘Gay Angels’.
Hadreas shares with Sufjan Stevens the peculiar ability to turn a barely whispered phrase into a heart-breaking, powerful statement. Learning, however, is far more lo-fi and downbeat than anything Michigan’s resident genius has ever done. It is a brief album, playing out in just under half an hour, but its brevity suits it as much more would be hard to take.
The songs have a tendency to slip by in such a way that, before you know it, all that’s left is silence and a feeling that something ghostly, palpable and devastating has passed. It’s an intense journey, but more than worth the effort.