Monday, August 20, 2012

Album Review: Passion Pit - Gossamer

Grade: A-
The funny thing about hype is that it's a double-edged sword. Although the hype train will have new fans boarding, the hyped product will rarely live up to the expectations projected onto it by the media. Passion Pit, coming off a decent amount of online media attention- including a feature in Pitchfork about frontman Michael Angelakos as well as plenty of attention from NME magazine- were set to become the posterboys of electro-pop before Gossamer's second single was released.

Making Passion Pit the new "it" band was certainly a risky choice despite their switch from Frenchkiss records to major label Columbia. Save for a few remixes, the band hadn't made any music since 2009 and a good deal of the time between albums featured Angelakos learning how to deal with his bipolar disorder and attempting to renounce drugs. The group wound up cancelling a tour and their most recent countrywide venture was a DJ set. Things were looking bleak and yet the online community was still ordaining them with praise usually reserved for less volatile, better established groups.

However, part of Passion Pit's allure is their volatility. "Little Secrets" was best known for its schizophrenic synth line- it was also one of the most popular songs from Manners; "Sleepyhead," with its altered background vocals being mixed into the beat and the synth beats swelling in the background was another example of Passion Pit's flair for the dramatic and daringly combining clashing elements into a cohesive work. The group has built on these extremes of their musical repertoires for Gossamer, a breathtaking study in the limits of pop music. Everything that the group executed well on Manners has been inflated and improved. "I'll Be Alright," for example, takes the background vocals heard on "Sleepyhead" and repositions them more effectively into the back of the mix- never distracting from Angelakos' quivering vocals as they did in the past. 

"I'll Be Alright" is just one sign of the improvement that Passion Pit has made in the intervening years. The most noticeable one is very surface-level: the quality of the recording is peerless compared to their prior material. Although the sound quality is a vain thing to take into account, it truly is fresh to hear the "true" sound of the group. With the studio gloss, Passion Pit's music is truly taken to the next level. However, the subtler changes, when added together, are just as important as the production. The band has grown even more ambitious, even experimenting with R&B on "Constant Conversations," and has taken a great effort to grow their sound into one that would be viable anywhere- even in an arena setting. The slow groove of "It's My Fault, I'm Happy" is ideal Starbucks music whereas "Take a Walk" is best enjoyed at full volume; this versatility keeps the album from growing stale, a problem that many of their contemporaries struggle with, and provides great replay value for the album. 

Lyrically and musically, Passion Pit have taken great strides as well. Angelakos' alcohol problems are a pervasive theme throughout Gossamer, which is a particularly heavy upgrade from the lighter faire of Manners. Beneath Angelakos' light falsetto is the weight of the demons that have been dragging him down- the juxtaposition is ironic yet fitting. The music is really what keeps the album from breaking itself under the weight of the lyrics. With swells of epic proportions building methodically from the base drum and piano lines crafted by the extremely talented Nate Donmoyer, Xander Singh and Angelakos. The album is bursting with energy, almost to excess, but the musical variance- especially the slightly increased focus on guitars- keeps it in check. This is a huge moment for the band and a huge triumph for the stale electropop genre as well.


Track List:

1. Take a Walk
2. I'll Be Alright
3. Carried Away
4. Constant Conversations
5. Mirrored Sea
6. Cry Like a Ghost
7. On My Way
8. Hideaway
9. Two Veils to Hide My Face
10. Love is Greed
11. It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy
12. Where We Belong

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