More Passion in the Pit: Angelakos’ Sound Gets Personal
The first Passion Pit song I ever heard was “Sleepyhead,” a mesmerizing song from their debut album, Manners, that sounds as though it came from Mars. The synthesizers were like needles to the ear, and the vocals were an octave above falsetto. Upon hearing Passion Pit's strange sound, I was confounded. But after a few more listens, I was impressed. While Manners’ singles were indubitably weird, they were also some of the catchiest songs I had ever heard. Ultimately I came to embrace Manners’ killer hooks, but I was never able to completely connect to the music. Listening to it was like having a conversation with an alien—fun, but not relatable.
Gossamer, while maintaining much of the eclectic sound of Manners, is fundamentally different in substance. Gossamer feels more human, a reflection of front man Michael Angelakos’ decision to be more candid. Angelakos has struggled with an acute form of bipolar disorder since age 18, and he recently began to convey his struggles through the media and his music. While Manners hides the struggles of Angelakos behind an explosion of sound, Gossamer brings these struggles to light through introspective lyrics. Combining an ethereal sound with a burst of humanity, Passion Pit has put out one of the better albums of the year.
The change in style is reflected in both the production and the lyrics. The first single from the album, “Take a Walk,” is barely recognizable as Passion Pit. The production is cut back, the singing is in a lower key, and the lyrics are more audible. In “Take a Walk,” Angelakos imagines himself as part of a family. He struggles through financial and marital strife and hopes his kids won’t inherit some of the same problems. When things go badly, he escapes from life and simply takes a walk. While “Take a Walk” is hardly the most introspective song on Gossamer, it sheds light on Angelakos’ paranoia and anxiety.
The rest of the album is wrought with anxiety, touching on several facets of Angelakos’ personal life. These topics range from love problems to drug abuse, reflecting his perpetual struggle with bipolar disorder. "Constant Conversations" is a self-deprecating love song, replete with references to Angelakos’ alcoholism. He sings “I never wanna hurt you, baby/ I’m just a mess with a name and a price/and now I’m drunker than before/they told me drinking doesn’t make me nice.” In “Cry Like a Ghost,” Angelakos describes a girlfriend who stuck with him and was complicit in his problematic behavior. In the chorus, he sings “Sylvia, right back where you came from/you’re a pendulum, heartbroken and numb/but Sylvia no one’s gonna tell you when enough’s enough/enough’s always too tough.” While he realizes that his relationship with Syliva is destructive for her, he also understands that their love is too strong for this understanding to faze her. Gossamer's lyrics are both touching and disturbing, providing direct access to the workings of Angelakos’ mind.
While Gossamer picks up where Manners left off musically, it also expands greatly on it. The songs of Gossamer mostly have a traditional verse-chorus structure. In the case of some artists this adaptation can hinder creativity, but with Passion Pit it paves the way for catchy bridges that end the songs in musical ecstasy. In “Carried Away” and "Take a Walk," Angelakos amasses tremendous buildup during the bridges and climaxes right before plunging into the final chorus. These dynamics give the music more direction while making it significantly more enjoyable. Another musical improvement lies in Angelakos’ vocal delivery. In general, Angelakos’ lower-key singing on Gossamer makes the music feel more accessible. This shift is highlighted most in “Constant Conversations,” where his beautiful intonation is able to evoke incredibly the emotion of love.
Overall, Gossamer is a much more accessible album than Manners and a big step in the right direction for Passion Pit. It’s also a big step forward for Angelakos, who now has the support and understanding of his fan base. I encourage readers to have a listen and to take a trip through the tumultuous life of Michael Angelakos.
Best Tracks: “Constant Conversations,” “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy,” and “Carried Away.”