Passion Pit’s follow up to its popular debut, Manners, is a messy affair but worthy of close listening that pays off throughout. Their sophomore release titled, Gossamer, challenges, entertains and confounds, sometimes within the same song. The music is dense, complex, often overly busy, and swings wildly like the arc of a pendulum. The vocals are high pitched and nasally as if sung with lungs filled with helium. While that might not sound appealing, it’s nothing short of intoxicating. Many moments are sheer electopop bliss. But darkness lurks right near the surface. If you’ve lost yourself in the many layers of keyboards and instruments both real and synthetic, then you probably are missing the point. However, that might actually be a better way to listen.
Passion Pit originally hail from Boston, MA having attended college together. As a live act they collectively form a band of musicians, but in reality the music in its entirety originates beginning to end with front man Michael Angelakos. He is a seemingly complicated, gifted and tormented individual that writes melodies that are instantaneously recognizable and sugary sweet. But the sweet confections of his pop songs conceal the better mousetrap. It’s a trick that he masks dark, unsettling, and deeply depressing lyrics that veer wildly behind a bouncy keyboard flourish. Sometimes the keyboards are almost cartoonish to the point that it makes sense corporations large and small license clips of Passion Pit songs for commercials to movies. While the idea of hard candy, complicated meaning buried in a pop tune is hardly new, Angelakos distinguishes himself as something unique.
The album is a bit of soul baring with Angelakos candidly referring to his life’s difficulties in recent interviews (e.g., see Pitchfork). He provides a disconcerting laundry list of concerns: he lives with bi-polar disorder and at times has been highly medicated; he has attempted suicide and considered it many times since; he has self medicated through heavy drinking binges; and lives what appears to be a life enveloped in chaos spinning waywardly to some horrible inevitable conclusion that he foresees. Gossamer lies within these disturbances to Angelakos’ being, and the underlying meaning of the album stirs as deeply as the the thoughts that trouble his subconscious.
At twelve tracks deep, eleven songs clearly string together the narrative to his demons. The first track and lead single, “Take A Walk” seems out of place tracing the rise and fall of the American Dream in roughly five stanzas; possibly through an amalgam of different immigrant’s eyes. “Take A Walk” has slowly burned across multiple radio formats to become a true crossover hit heard alongside Taylor Swift and Pink. The fact Taco Bell licensed it to sell more Gorditas makes it even more ubiquitous.
“Take A Walk”
The second track “I’ll Be Alright” seems to be the true beginning of the interconnected autobiography. He tells a lover she should leave if that’s what she wants; but more to protect her than a threat. At about 1000 BPM, the song skitters by while referencing self-loathing, boredom, pills washed down with gin, and a brain that can’t stop racing.
“I’ll Be Alright”
Instantaneously accessible are “Carried Away” and “Love Is Greed.” Both are less compacted with blips and squiggles and beeps, but by no means simple with big, catchy choruses with ultra infectious beats. “Carried Away” masterfully orchestrates at least three separate keyboard pieces.
Other tracks stretch into areas that Manners never ventured, and give clues to Angelakos true ambitions. In “Constant Conversations”, he croons over a R&B groove reminiscent of Prince. “Two Veils To Hide My Face” is used as a transitional song completely acapella and opens the final 1/3 of the album.
The closing song, “Where We Belong”, is the chilling centerpiece that references his attempted suicide and his vision of the archangel Gabriel lifting him out of a crimson tub then praying for him on the floor. He contemplates the existence of God and concludes to “never be up and down, be in between the whitest clouds.” In a pulsating haze of electronic bleeps that propels the song forward comes a beautiful falsetto with the final words of “All I ever wanted was to be happy and make you proud.”
“Where We Belong”
Sophomore albums are tricky. Sometimes writers, actors, and musicians catch lightening in a bottle the first time out. No clock existed and everything breaks just right. But then how do they fare when expectations exist? Many fail miserably. With Gossamer, Michael Angelakos as Passion Pit created something that reaches spectacularly on his second effort and first with expectations. By no means perfect, the entire album could be a metaphor for bi-polarism. While the autobiographical lyrics and interviews are alarming, the music is creative and undeniable.
Lyrics – 18
Composition – 17
Musicianship – 18
Production – 18
Originality – 9
Intangibles – 8
OVERALL: 88 (Recommended for 2012)