Passion Pit: Gossamer
By Luke Larsen
July 24, 2012
Luke Larsen is a freelance writer, music connoisseur and indie game enthusiast hailing from Portland, Ore. His opinions, interviews, and reviews have been featured in publications such as Paste Magazine, Prefix,GameChurch and Christ and Pop Culture. The goal of his writing has always been to encourage people to interact with and speak back to the pop culture they digest in meaningful ways. For more, follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.
I need start this review with a confession: Part of me is really tired of record labels and media outlets trying to get me to feel sorry for the tortured souls of their privileged musicians.
Don't get me wrong -- it's all great material to write pop songs about. But it seems like just about every artist out there has a muse in the form of a sleeping disorder or sensitive heart these days. But here’s what the artists and labels know: We all like a good story to go behind our music. We love to hear about the lives of the people behind the music, even if most pop music only catches glimpses of its makers at best. So when I read that Passion Pit's sophomore album was going to be more personal and autobiographical, the cynical side of me rolled its eyes, knowing that real life is often too messy and complex to fit into a three minute pop song.
But then a couple weeks ago, the band cancelled a month's worth of headlining tour dates reportedly due to frontman Michael Angelakos' "mental health" issues. The dates were to be the opening shows in support of their highly anticipated new album Gossamer, which tells me that this was no business move—it was the real thing.Because if all you knew was the lighthearted synth pop of their 2009 debut album, you'd think the members of Passion Pit lived in a world full of cotton candy. Angelakos' high-pitched falsetto has a childlike quality that fills his songs with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. The abundance of candy-coated pop tunes that filled Passion Pit's debut album Manners are what won over their fans and turned them into a crossover sensation. While that album certainly had its moments of personal intimacy, it still seemed primarily concerned with making a lot of noise and playing music that's a little too poppy for stiff, educated twentysomethings like myself to move to. I remember heading out to see the band a few years ago and was—for some reason—surprised to see the sea of sweaty ponytails bobbing to the beat. "Oh yeah... fourteen-year-old girls would really like Passion Pit," I thought to myself.
And truthfully, Gossamer is really no different. The band's decadent synth-pop style is still intact and songs like "Take A Walk" and "Cry to a Ghost" will surely keep fans happy. But I'm happy to report that Gossamer picks up right where "Sleepyhead" left off, using samples for all their worth and wearing their hip hop influences on their sleeve. In the single "I'll Be Alright," Passion Pit cuts their samples like a Warp Records pro before breaking into a piece of electronic pop bliss that would make Lady Gaga envious. Later in "Constant Conversations", the band lays down a smooth R&B slow jam with a crooning soul sample and background female vocals to boot. These little additions to the classic Passion Pit sound really reveal a band taking small steps forward to maturation.
For me, what really made Gossamer click though was hearing the way he talked about his own haunting directive to make music: "Creativity essentially leads to suicide...", he says. "I thrive under a chaotic environment, but I also create it. It's a sadomasochistic thing. Dissatisfaction and creation are inextricably linked, so you cannot be satisfied." This dissatisfaction with himself and his artistic ambition runs rampant throughout the album, filling each track with hundreds of tracks of synths, vocals, and rhythm layers that can only be described as gleefully maximalist. It was a choice for him to create something beautiful with his struggle rather than wallowing in it.
I, for one, am glad he chose to do the former, and you should be too because my guess is that Gossamer will probably end up being the soundtrack for whatever you’re doing this summer. But as for the rest of the year, it’s the deep portrayal of personal struggle that will keep me coming back to this one.