Review: Passion Pit – “Gossamer”

July 27, 2012 2 comments

It’s hard to think of few more taboo phrases in music than “sophomore slump”. Consider the current era of free EP’s, mixtapes, user-uploaded content and loose tracks that float the collective blogosphere like embryo drifting in an amniotic sac; aimless, while singularly purposeful. This is the climate Michael Angelakos and co. built their foundation upon. Long before the endless torrent of remixes to their breakthrough earworm “Sleepyhead” devoured the indie-pop landscape in ’08, Passion Pit was the solid sum of it’s integral parts — those physical “parts” (re: band members) added post-beloved debut EP — fusing colorful electropop, indie rock, and some flashes of IDM. The fact that it’s been a nearly silent three years since their first studio album speaks less to our shrinking attention span as a global music listening society, and more to the fact that Passion Pit are meticulously detail-oriented in their method. Gossamer, aside from being an answer to any looming sophomore slump theories, is a prime example of this scrupulousness.

Whereas 2009’s Manners rode on a general air of spontaneity and explosiveness, it inadvertently came off as thinly structured. But, that also exemplified just how much fun that record was. Passion Pit aren’t just out for fun this time around. (And no, I mean that in the least obligatory “Strap in! These fellas are serious nowadays” type of way.) First single, and album opener, “Take a Walk”, is just as shimmery and bouncy as one can reasonably expect from this band, but the tone is markedly more demure. One can isolate lyrics about “country” and “family” and a married life coming more into frame within Angelakos’ writing, but it’s more than simply growing up. To fall back on the term “mature” would do a disservice to just how intricately jocular Passion Pit’s compositional approach is.

Dropping the BPM on many of the more effective melodies is a newly acquired trick that makes for some early highlights. “Constant Conversations” is about two vocal harmonies away from being an early-career R. Kelly panty-dropper. But, the lack of fear and timidity this is done with (as well as the subject matter) keeps the cheesiness of the “Passion Pit R&B jam” label from stifling the enjoyment. “Cry Like a Ghost” dances around chipmunk-pitched samples and bursting synths that just barely muffles the warped bassline, causing a drugged-out effect only Angelakos could make seem like something to celebrate. The following track, “On My Way”, while falling into almost Disney-like grandiosity, stays compelling by pacing itself and never really forcing its boisterous camp out of the realm of reasonability.

Then again, that’s just when Passion Pit decides to show restraint. What made this band a fixture at festivals, and a must-buy purchase whenever they’re booked near you, is just how easily they turn sugary pop pastiche into a veritable dance party for your ears. Second single, “I’ll Be Alright”, grasps from the same material as their previous up-tempo hits, but seems to shimmer with a pristine gloss that echoes from one keyboard inflection to an opposing, yet corresponding, guitar riff. The synergy here is impeccable, showing incredible control within all the moving parts. “Love is Greed”, which opens like the title screen to [insert rated-E Wii video game here], rides a staccato bass and horn progression amongst some relentless female background vocals. It reads like sickening One Direction fare, but much of it comes together through the ebb and flow of energy and instrumentation.

What is essentially the album’s greatest strength is also its biggest detraction. Amidst all the buttery soft assuage of the music is a looming desire to feel some semblance of sonic humanity. Angelakos, who is certainly conflicted himself, tackles subjects like suicide, drugs, civic unrest and even mental instability, but it’s hard to make out a solid frown in the constant glare of strobe lights. That’s a built-in hitch that some of the more reflective tracks can veil, but maximalist tendencies on songs like “Mirrored Sea” and “Hideaway” blur the impact that genuine emotion can do for this band. It’s almost like watching an actor you’ve gotten to know very well as a television character, and then seeing him/her try to pull off someone completely different for an entire feature film. The talent is there, but the suspension of belief isn’t quite.

Gossamer doesn’t fall off the rails because of this, though. The last third of the album (including the epic, multi-movement closer “Where We Belong”) is stellar, and shows signs of the balance that Passion Pit touches on, but rarely indulges in. For all the angst, fear and self-loathing that’s portrayed between the lines here, what’s most jarring is the unity of a band that plays fun music in absolute shit environments; both literally and mentally. There’s a schizophrenic dynamism that makes Gossamer a perplexingly multifarious pop album but, clearly, beneath the melodic sprinkles and pastel-colored synth icing, is a cake baked in a deep fascination with the turmoil that is the human experience. Now, if only I could keep still long enough to appreciate it.

8.0/10

Gossamer is in stores and on iTunes now.


Lyrics below via RG:

Passion Pit – Carried Away Lyrics
Passion Pit – Constant Conversations Lyrics
Passion Pit – Cry Like a Ghost Lyrics
Passion Pit – Hideaway Lyrics
Passion Pit – I’ll Be Alright Lyrics
Passion Pit – It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy Lyrics
Passion Pit – Love is Greed Lyrics
Passion Pit – Mirrored Sea Lyrics
Passion Pit – On My Way Lyrics
Passion Pit – Take a Walk Lyrics
Passion Pit – Two Veils to Hide My Face Lyrics
Passion Pit – Where We Belong Lyrics