Rating:Passion Pit kick off their sophomore album, Gossamer, with its stomping lead single, the post-recession American tale “Take a Walk.” Packed with clamoring horns and shouting and detailing the rise and fall of a wealthy immigrant and entrepreneur, the track captures something of the flayed ambition and frustrated coping we all seem to be doing. The most immediate impression from the song is that this band has grown. Their 2009 debut, Manners, was a well-regarded mash of shrill synthesizers, screaming falsetto and an unabashed enthusiasm for good pop tunes. At its best, Manners displayed frontman Michael Angelakos’ undeniable gift for melody. At its worst—and I may be the minority opinion in this—his upper-range howling made otherwise outstanding dance-pop kind of annoying. Blessedly, Angelakos reins in his own vocals on Gossamer to highlight the more ambitious, layered instrumentation of his bandmates and the subtleties of his subject matter, to great effect.
The album title is particularly apt given its collection of tightly spun but untouchably delicate songs. If Manners allied Passion Pit with the likes of MGMT, Gossamer aligns more closely to the Dirty Projectors’ experimental asymmetry while remaining within the confines of conventional pop music. “Constant Conversations” could have been a cut from the Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca with its silky R&B flow and dueting female backing vocals. Their styles diverge where the Projectors’ David Longstreth tends toward sparseness; Angelakos’s choruses are often multi-voiced singalongs piped with the joy of a particularly enthused choir.
Passion Pit’s synth-pop takes some chiptune cues on “Mirrored Sea,” with a hook almost certainly inspired by an old Megaman game. “On My Way” finds the singer back in his upper range, begging girlfriend Kristina to marry him despite his demons. “I’m on my way/ I’m on my way” he reassures her; “Don’t once think that this madness is my fault alone.” The track further stands out for its restraint among the smashing cymbals and chirping synths and samples of louder tracks. Angelakos’s voice nearly breaks over a thin piano line, his pleading harrowing in its persistence. On the other hand, he condemns such indulgent feelings on “Love Is Greed,” a cantabile, if less optimistic, Polyphonic Spree takeoff. These tracks represent the extremes of emotion that Angelakos lays bare, his unadorned lyrics describing his own struggles with alcoholism, relationships and bipolar disorder. He clearly sees music as a purifying force. He seems to work through his struggles without wallowing, constantly driving towards the comfortable stasis we all seek.
Along with “On My Way,” several tracks seem offered as reassurance from the frontman. “I’ll Be Alright,” “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy” and “Where We Belong” speak to short-lived feelings of stability in an otherwise turbulent existence. Less than a week before the album’s release, the band was forced to cancel several tour dates over concerns about Angelakos’ mental health. It is no secret that many artists struggle with great emotional burdens. At this young age and as such a promising talent, we must appreciate his instinct for self-preservation, wish him good health and wait to see what happens next.