Originally posted July 22, 2012 on Intersections.
tl;dr: Bleeding-heart boy struggles with recovery, spins desperate hope into his trademark exuberant hooks and riffs; out comes a record so personal and so evocative that you can’t help but join him as he breaks and mends.
Worth your download: I want you to get the entire thing, but if I must: “Take a Walk,” “I’ll Be All Right,” “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy,” “On My Way”
This is not a record for your Friday night buzz. This is not a record for your campfire dance party. This is a record for the inside of your walls, for when you need catharsis in the middle of your storm. After the jump, my thoughts on Passion Pit’s deeply emotional sophomore effort and a track-by-track review.
The childlike wonder of Passion Pit’s 2009 debut Manners carried me (higher and higher and higher / higher and higher and higher) through the last legs of high school on glittery, major-key wings; let me make very clear from the start of this review that Gossamer is nothing like that. Much has been made of frontman Michael Angelakos’ troubles in the year leading up to the album’s release — boy spent time in a mental hospital, cancelled a series of tour dates this summer, apparently struggled with addiction — but I had chalked all the talk and all the press up to your standard pre-release artist exposition on the inspiration behind his music.
I was wrong: the pain is unmistakable on this album. It is deep-seated, desperate, weary, and foundational; thankfully, the band has taken it and used it to construct some beautiful pieces of music instad of drowning. Gossamer is a diary of Angelakos’ struggles through recovery from his demons. I mean that in the most precise sense: Angelakos is struggling. It’s not his battles that’s he’s written about but his efforts to swim upstream — there are no battle cries, no rallies, no pep talks, just a boy trying to make sense of his hurt. Thematically, we’re taken through drug/pill addiction, spiritual crises, and the angst of being both in and out of relationships; listen to this right after Manners and you’re struck by how damn sad it is. It’s an album for when you’re dealing with your hurt. Go into it expecting more childlike romps and you’ll be disappointed.
The genius here, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out, is that the songcraft pulls what could’ve been a 47-minute whine-and-cheese pity party into something spellbinding. Manners made something addictive, catchy and buoyant out of a storm of synths, guitars and falsettos; with Gossamer, the band took those tricks, added some new ideas — noticeably, organs, orchestral string swells and more exotic percussion — and produced an incredibly interesting album, one that needs and deserves time to pick apart layers, read lyrics and take notes. (What I’m saying is, read the track-by-track!) This relies less on buzzing hooks and refrains and more on picture-painting, story-telling, good ole-fashioned heart-on-sleeve songwriting. From the recession Americana bounce of “Take a Walk” and the rambling, anthemic pulse of “I’ll Be Alright” through to the steady hum of “Constant Conversations” and the shipyard piano pop of “On My Way,” it’s clear the boys have taken time to experiment and restrain; there are no messy tracks here, just a lot of focused, beautifully constructed sounds. And from the people who gave us “Little Secrets,” I would expect nothing less.
I don’t expect that Gossamer will attain the kind of universal love that Manners seems to enjoy. I dig the intricate, dense sound work and the open, desperate honesty, but I know it’s not for everyone. Still, I personally believe Passion Pit’s chosen the right direction for a sophomore album. It’s music the way I love music: dense and focused and unbelievably personal. With Gossamer, the boys have proven they’re so much more than sparkly bedroom electronic pop; they can bleed, too, and sound good doing it.
1. Take A Walk *
I’ve been walking around the streets of New York to this bouncy, midtempo guitar romp all summer long. I’m a bit perplexed by it in the context of Gossamer, though – it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the record, or set the tone for what’s to come, or even bridge Manners and Gossamer. Still, it’s an instant single.
2. I’ll Be Alright *
The frenetic DJ flicks and relentless, upbeat waves of pulsing sound are familiar; the percussive breaks and the general note of sadness, though, are new. “I’ll Be Alright” is our first glimpse at this newly upset Passion Pit and what they can do with their hurt. It’s a great piece of song work that infuses melancholy with exuberance. You should go if you want to, I’ll be all right, Angelakos promises in this grand, energetic sweep of an apology.
Can you remember ever having any fun? / ‘Cause when it’s all said and done, I always believed we would / but now I’m not so sure
3. Carried Away
The simple, bouncy funk of this earworm is a great tribute back to Manners: it’s an easily digestible refrain of optimistic hooks over a bouncy base.
4. Constant Conversations
You’ll need more than two or three listens to really process this slower, plodding, intimate meditation on alcoholism. Sound-wise, it’s a straightforward, chunk-by-chunk piece of bass and moody chord work for Angelakos’ weary apology. Listen for the strings at the end; they’ll catch you by surprise.
Yeah they love you when they need you but someday you’re gonna need to find some other kind of place to go
5. Mirrored Sea
Right after the talkative weariness of “Constant Conversations” comes this stormy sound assault. We’re back to Passion Pit’s bread and butter with ear-friendly anthems. I like this track because it shows off their trademark fusion of vocal soar, skilled DJ work — they never overdo it — and guitar drive. It’s troubled, too; a good atmosphere track and a good intro to the deeper cuts of the album.
6. Cry Like a Ghost
I really, really dig this. The apologetic, stormy refrain is evocative as usual, but the verses — driven, of course, by strings — are where this shines. It’s another one of Gossamer’s broken, heart-on-sleeve songs about alcoholism, about remorse and contrition. No one’s gonna tell you when enough’s enough / enough’s always too tough, Angelakos cries as he crumbles and stumbles over doorsteps, hurting those he loves.
Yes, I drank all those drinks on my own / my life’s become some blurry little quest
7. On My Way *
This is gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a good piece of well-constructed pop; this is so beautifully planned and, consequently, the emotional impact here is huge. Just believe in me, Kristina / all these demons, I can beat ’em, Angelakos begs. It’s the trust storybook promise: please love me, please wait; I’m trying, but I can’t do this without you. Angelakos’ falsetto is perfect set against the pianos, organs and strings of this opus. Not only does this pack a punch sound-wise, but it’ll break your heart.
Let’s get married / I’ll buy the ring you’re needing (?) / consecrate this messy love
Another grand, sweeping promise of a song. The guitar drive and the piano counter work nicely to produce another glittery, desperate anthem. Not too sure about the distort at the beginning — took me a second listen to pick up on how it’s the chorus, just smashed.
9. Love is Greed *
Another beautiful track with its heart on its sleeve; I’m dying for the official lyrics to this song. Here, Angelakos is bitter. Love has always been a mockery, he sings over a bed of romping guitar and swelling strings.
Someday we’ll all agree that it’s not worth making / another person that’s just yours for the taking
10. It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy *
As we near the end of the album, Angelakos’ manic melancholy unfolds in all its gorgeous, gorgeous glory. This track is nothing short of heartbreaking. The melodic line has the honest sentiment of Sunday morning church songs – not the old-timey hymns, but the easy melodies, the simple songs that rest on wonderment instead of grandeur. We burst from that gentle weariness into a thudding stadium plea — it’s not right, it’s not fair — and then down to a distorted, wrought bridge: It’s not my fault, I’m happy / Don’t call me crazy, I’m happy.
Sorry I couldn’t be there / I was tied to a rocking chair / I was beat down to a pulp rocking back and forth somewhere
11. Where We Belong
I don’t know about you, but by this track I’m pretty damn sad. The boys know it, too – Angelakos breaks out of his mold vocally and starts us on a broody LCD Soundsystem/The xx-style meditation before whipping into a spacey, dreamy falsetto, taking us through the desperate, prostrate progressions of that same earnest pop tradition we’ve been toying with all the way. The effect is just pure emotion. This former orchestra dork LOVES the way they’ve deployed their strings over the thudding guitar/bass drive. I bet this is nothing short of mesmerizing live. It’s a perfect finisher for an incredibly sentimental album.
All I ever wanted was to be happy and make you proud
Gossamer is now streaming on NPR.org. The album’s physical release happens Tuesday, July 24th, but do yourself a favor and listen to it before. Shout-out to Passion Pit’s graphics people, by the way, for a great album cover that perfectly suits the desperate hope of the record.