Four years after the belated Valentine’s-Day-gift-turned-hyped-EP Chunk of Change, the formation of a five member band, a charming debut LP (Manners) and popularity and adoration that have made them household names (more like apartment/loft for the young and hip), Michael Angelakos has a lot to be proud of regarding his electro-pop project Passion Pit. But what he has in store for their second release, Gossamer, is anything but congenial. As a matter of fact, this just might be the saddest pop album of the year.
Right now in indie music, artists creating hybrids of diverse styles is becoming the norm. St. Vincent, Death Grips and The Weeknd are merely a few who’ve developed careers and influence by smashing two distinctly different genres together with a certain finesse, in the process making remarkable art that was previously inconceivable. Of course, there are subtler forms of this and that’s where you’ll find Passion Pit. With sugary, rock candy-esque pop jams and troubled lyrics about complicated love, Manners proved to be an album of authentic, delectable synth-pop with surprisingly profound lyrical thought. And in a sense, the same can be said of Gossamer. Their latest, however, covers a heap of darker, more mature issues with an incontrovertibly more defined agenda to get Angelakos’feelings across; the album would benefit from some clarity.
Many critics noted a certain post-success of Manners, and how unappreciated its brooding and stressed emotional nature was due to the glossy and infectious pop arrangements. That notion is of more concern to me on Gossamer than it was on Manners. It’s not like Passion Pit make any sacrifice with their loving pop-craft, and the same goes for their anxious lyricism. Yet, as most people listen, the pop is clearly going to come first, and if that’s all they get out of a song on Gossamer, that’s just fine. Also, in that scope, Gossamer plays as a lesser and forgettable record when juxtaposed to past efforts. There’s obvious influence from new wave ’70s/’80s radio pop, but it tends to stick less when you’re used to the more original college-rock-gone-synth-pop hybrid found on Manners. The challenge of separating the pop from the emotional weight of Angelakos’ psyche becomes tougher considering how cohesively they work on Gossamer. On tracks from Manners like “Moth’s Wings” and “Seaweed Song”, the differentiation was easily made; easily heard, piercing lyrics made clear the unsettling sadness Angelakos’ poetry had to offer. Songs on Gossamer like “I’ll Be Alright” or “Carried Away” obscure that moroseness, and without a sheet of lyrics, you’d never know it. There are certain moments where it is more obvious; the intro, “Mirrored Sea” or the closer “Where We Belong,” where Passion Pit shifts gears to make pop music that sounds more stressed, all show signs. But a full play-through of Gossamer wouldn’t let on to what’s really going on inside, and that’s a shame.
When examined closely, Gossamer can be a gorgeously studded record with harrowing tales of depression and abuse, but it doesn’t let on easily, and my primary concern is exactly that. Gossamer would be a true winner had it contained with the elegant accentuation of Manners. Passion Pit is certainly growing in all the right ways artistically, but Gossamer illustrates that it is not easy to build art out of clashing ideas.