Passion Pit, ‘Gossamer’ – Album Review
Alternate album title: ‘Pity Party ‘Til You Puke.’ Three years ago, Passion Pit found their electropop piped into homes everywhere when their breakout single, ‘Sleepyhead,’ became the Big TV Commercial Jam of 2008. That beat — that still-incredible, ‘Ye-influenced beat — and Michael Angelakos’ birthday balloon-huffing falsetto were everywhere — except for the Billboard Top 100 charts, somehow.
It was a strange failure to launch for an era where advertising agencies are so often the new tether between uncelebrated music, ears and wallets.
So, will ‘Gossamer,’ the sophomore release from Passion Pit, succeed where its older brother, ‘Manners,’ failed? For even casual chart watchers, it’s the big question about this release. For those invested in hearing an ambitious, raw, eloquent album, the answer is a big, buzzing yes.
Much has been made of Angelakos’ candor about his ongoing bouts with mental instability and illness. Recently, the frontman canceled a leg of tour in order to give himself a psychic tune-up. But no matter how raw he gets in interviews, it can’t get much more raw than the bared, wounded subjects he explores here. You just have to dig past the music itself, that deceptively joyous, sunshine-and-sugar production.
Once your ears wrap around the lyrics — including a verse imagining Angelakos’ limp body being hoisted out of a bloody bath — the hectic production, the layers upon layers of incessant bells and alarms, chipmunk voices, sawing synthesizers and industrial thumps become hellish, ‘It’s a Small World’ on bath salts panic attack.
No, there’s really no room for subtlety in the soundscapes or the composition book scrawls that comprise the album. It’s an in-your-face, deceptively disturbing sophomore album in the vein of Violent Femmes’ ‘Hallowed Ground’ or Weezer‘s ‘Pinkerton,’ with that special blend of Angelakos’ angst and outright suicidal tendencies taking center stage.
But as easy as it would be to dismiss this as an over-produced plea for attention, or twee-nightclub bangers, Passion Pit have evened out the heavy helping of angst with some really tremendous songs.
The album’s lead-off single, ‘Talk a Walk,’ is fine, an easy-to-tackle follow up to ‘Sleepyhead,’ and ‘I’ll Be Alright’ opens with a Skrillex-baiting torrent of sonic shrapnel, but the real gold is tacked throughout the other 11 tracks on ‘Gossamer.’ In fact, the best songs shine the brightest when they’re not held back by the signature Passion Pit hectic production.
‘Constant Conversations’ is an unabashed soul-burner that lifts a skipping, accentuated melody from Spector-style girl groups and some close female harmonies from Dirty Projectors, and ‘Cry Like a Ghost’ begs for a redux from Beyonce with its knee-deep groove and busted-speaker funk.
But the greatest instance of imitation-as-flattery comes in ‘On My Way,’ in which Angelakos recasts himself as German chanteuse Nico’s musical grandson, deftly borrowing a snippet from ‘Fairest of the Seasons,’ one of the Chelsea Girl’s greatest tracks, and winding up with the emotional high point of the entire album.
As far as heart-jarring pop introspection goes, Leonard Cohen or Elliot Smith this ain’t. And like an actual hyperactive manic-depressive, the album has a tendency to wear out its welcome quickly. But somehow — and against their own odds — Passion Pit do an incredible job of putting the “funk” back in “Doctor, I’m in a real funk.”