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ALBUM: Gossamer from Passion Pit

I’ve been anticipating Passion Pit’s sophomore album, Gossamer, for a long time, and by that I mean after eating up every track on Manners and then looking around for more.  Not to mention that frontman Michael Angelakos described the new stuff as a “fantastic, exciting, beautiful, gorgeous record,” further raising my expectations.  And since the album arrived, with its glimmering pink cover art, I’ve had it on repeat.  First take? God yes, it’s been too long. The first listen is exciting, and the second (and third and fourth and fifth) are a more refined kind of enjoyable.

Passion Pit has, if anything, raised the bar with this new record.  The characteristic sound that initially hooked me—a mash of electro-pop beats, synthesizer, bell-like keyboard, seamless sampling, and Angelakos’s characteristic pealing falsetto—is solidified by most of Gossamer’s tracks.  Their success wasn’t just a fluke from an enticing break-out album—this is Passion Pit, and they know how to write music.  Oddly entrancing electronic music.

Gossamer is a handful, though.  It’s barrage of different emotions, a number of songs that could stand alone in different ways.  In fact, the album would seem senselessly cobbled together, if not for its honesty. I enjoyed the first listen—despite all the twists and turns—because I felt it was a very raw collection of songs.   I’ll admit I prefer albums that go places, even if there’s no direction to their movement, to albums with a consistent sound and similar collection of tracks.

The emotional ups and downs of Gossamer reflect Michael Angelakos’s struggle with bipolar disorder, and maybe that’s why it feels so honest.  It’s a battle that’s been especially prominent as Passion Pit has gotten more hype in recent years, through which the public has seen a glimpse of Angelakos’s manic and depressive episodes and hospitalizations.  Mental illness has played a role in Passion Pit’s image, leading to canceled tour dates and pushing back the release of Gossamer, but it lends a bigger—and more important—hand to the band’s songwriting. The music is incredibly inspired; excited, even neurotic, at times, heart-wrenchingly low at others. Furthermore, this wide range creates a delightful pallet for listeners.  It’s hard to find something you can’t relate to.

So, with this preamble in mind, the line-up:

Gossamer kicks off with its first single, a track that we’ve been spinning for a couple weeks here at BRU—Take A Walk.  It’s a good introduction; a catchy, enticing piece of pop that begins with heavy drums and a warbling melody from the synthesizer. Angelakos drops in to lament the current state of the union, in a way where only Passion Pit could make me want to get up and dance to a tune about the disastrous economy.  It isn’t the most musically or lyrically complicated song, but it’s easy to digest, and preps a listener for the record’s more involved tracks.  A crowd-pleaser.

Gossamer wastes no time—it jumps right into the second single, I’ll Be Alright, with a fast tangle of samples.  Fast is the only way to describe this song, and good thing too—a road-block ballad early on is the first thing to get me to hit pause.

Carried Away is reminiscent of Little Secrets, an up-tempo track good for driving or dancing or drinking or just sitting and nodding along.  It’s full of technicolor beats, chimes, a jump-up-and-down good times anthem. I can very easily imagine these guys performing it live, and the crowd with full hands in the air, howling out the chorus.

Carried Away

When we arrive at track four, I can concede to be slowed down a bit, and Passion Pit knows just how to do it.  Constant Conversations depresses the sound without depressing the mood; in fact, the song is incredibly sensual. Opening with a slow, lay-me-down beat, it’s got a slightly R&B sound but damn, it works, and the beat sticks around to make Constant Conversations Gossamer’s undeniable sex track.  Despite that Angelakos is crooning like a lover, the theme of mental illness is very apparent.

“Now you’re standing in my kitchen and you’re pouring out my drink / there’s a very obvious difference—it’s that one of us can think/ yeah I love you and I need you/ but someday you’re gonna need to find some other place to go.”

With a strong opening and a strong finish, the middle tracks of Gossamer are where the album gets a little muddled.  Whereas I found the tracks introduced previously to be each very distinct, the meat of Gossamer is slightly less special, with far less stand-outs.

Mirrored Sea keeps things strong— it picks the pace back up, with thick drums, anthem-like vocals, and a persistent tempo.  From there, Cry Like A Ghost makes decent background listening, supported by some R&B-esque samples and a rich synthesizer. On My Way is even fluffier, with a bouncing, simple chorus; definitely one of the album’s more forgettable.  Hideaway is also decently forgettable.

The point where the album shifts back into wow mode is an odd track called Two Veils to Hide My Face.  It’s a little thirty-second poem (or prayer) thrown in, but it segues nicely into the electro-flute hook of Gossamer’s next big track, Love Is Greed.  Passion Pit is one of those bands that does a marvelous job of blending up-tempo instrumentals with much darker messages; Love Is Greed, like Take A Walk, is a perfect example of this, arguing in favor of love’s selfishness.

It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy is one of Gossamer’s best—the song hauntingly builds its self, layer by layer, to a soul-baring anthem.  It’s a little dip into Angelakos’s psyche, a desperate explanation. “It’s funny being funny/makes you feel like up and running/ when your past lingers like rain clouds casting shadows below.”  A serious, somewhat sad track, though it carries its self with Passion Pit’s characteristic tempo.

And we arrive at the end. Where We Belong is the grand finale that Gossamer deserves, the collation of that mismatch of sounds I talked about earlier.  This is the one that ties the entire record together. I hate to be cliché, but there is no other way to put it—it’s a beautiful end.  Gossamer is an album with strong pop undercurrents; it’s got a lot of great songs, but few very powerful songs.  Where We Belong is in a class above pop; the track of highest quality and most emotional value off Gossamer. You can’t help but feel something when you listen to it.  This final track channels the Radiohead of Kid A or OK Computer, or some kind of electronic symphony.  And it rings with hope.

Where We Belong

Akin to Moth’s Wings from Manners, Where We Belong grows from a steady beat—strings, drums, and finally, Angelakos’s ringing vocals.   Now this is masterful composition.  It tugs at you, from the lush bridge, to Angelakos’s quiet, hopeful utterance: “I’ve found a place where we belong.”  Curtain.

Gossamer reflects a whirlwind couple years for the band, Angelakos especially. The record is bursting and dynamic, stressed at some parts, slow and delicate at others.  My overall rating? The classic in me gives it four stars for its objective composition.  A well-made album.  Probably not a compositional masterpiece that will leave an imprint on the music industry, though.  But the romantic in me—thinking of the struggle behind its composition, Angelakos’s bipolar disorder, the overall energy of the album, the soul, if you will—has got to give it five.  Three years since Manners, and Passion Pit has proven their stripes.  And now, the next agonizing wait for another new record.

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