July 19, 2012

Album Review: Passion Pit's Gossamer

I listen to a lot of snot-nosed, bratty punk and hardcore made by kids who are barely out of high school or college and I still get it, but Passion Pit’s jubilant style of electro-pop is the one sound that -- while I've always enjoyed it -- used to make me self aware about those years being beyond me. It felt like a proper mocking from the cool kids — That I’m not invited to their youth-culture dance party. It's Michael Angelakos’ baby coo falsetto coupled by the high-climbing children choir choruses lifting him up and how the wonderfully colorful melodies scream of naive innocence. That pretty much sums up the success behind the Boston indie pop darlings love letter breakthrough Chunk of Change EP and 2009's acclaimed debut Manners. Beyond dance floors littered with deflated balloons and grounded confetti however, there's a darker story to be told concerning Angelakos, and on their sophomore effort Gossamer, Passion Pit and their fractured frontman deliver a sonic psychoanalysis that reveals a manic ingenuity and offset maturity that's been hiding beneath their cute synth stylus all along.

Back in March, Angelakos told Pitchfork he "vilified" himself on Gossamer by scribing a catharctic tell-all on his battles with addiction, depression and the pressure of major life events. To say that just scratches the surface is an understatement, as even more recently, his story was chronicled by Larry Fitzmaurice, revealing a sad, yet honest portrait of a lifetime in pain: Angelakos was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder at the age of 18, has attempted suicide more than once, is chronically in and out of mental rehab facilities, ultimately credits his fiancée Kristy to has saving life and has already drawn up a will that will leave her everything, with the expectation that he won't live very long. The fluorescent sound of Passion Pit's music makes all of this hidden to the untrained eye, but when the real life lyrical content seeps into it as a means of survival, it hits a universal nerve.

Gossamer greatest fete is how it sounds like the warped candy-coated pop vision of Angelakos' struggles. It's when these struggles get scarier, more humiliating and beyond his control that the album's most memorable moments are made. "I'll Be Alright" is dizzying and spastic with high-speed samples reflecting a state of chaos and irrational thoughts ("My brain is racing and I feel like I’ll explode / You’re looking at me and below this room wasn’t made for you / Just go for someone new...") while "Constant Conversations" and "Cry Like a Ghost" jump into a black pool of R&B where Angelakos' helium voice is oxygenated into a croon as he recalls some dangerously drunken nights and other low points. The tail end of the LP is it's strongest, however, reveling in Passion Pit's deepest-sinking electronic textures to date that sound future-perfect more so than past-present like early tracks "Take a Walk" and "Carried Away," all while dissecting a contrasting reality where Angelakos finds himself middling between evident sadness and strains of hope ("It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy," "Where We Belong.")

Keeping in mind we should be concerned for Michael Angelakos' long-term well-being and hope for the best case scenario, one thing is certain: On Gossamer, Passion Pit have their shit together most when he's in the center of this crumbling chaos. It feeds him and his art, and maybe it's what been pushing the frontman to compose music that sounds so forcefully exuberant. Even Angelakos doesn't sound convinced that he is even when he says it. When he quivers "I used to glow inside a life to show -- A life they know" on "It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy," it's as if he knows full well that no one will ever think of him the same way once the needle stops. And you shouldn't. Gossamer strips away much of the naive and innocent fun that's been previously associated with their sound to make way for something more honest, open and inviting. If vilifying himself is what Michael Angelakos needed to do in order to make the world see this broken reality, he's given us more than enough to praise.

Passion Pit's Gossamer will be released July 24, 2012 on Columbia Records.

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