Some albums hit you at exactly the right time. Maybe they echo your experiences at a certain age. Maybe they speak to a real need in your life. For whatever reason, it feels like fate that you heard that album at that moment.
Passion Pit’s Gossamer came out exactly when I needed it. After a lonely, miserable freshman year at NYU attempting to deal with anxiety and depression, I was unsure of where and how I’d fit in. But the honesty in Angelakos’ songwriting, whether concerning his relationship with his wife or his struggles with bipolar disorder, hit me when I needed it most. It told me I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. It reminded me that I needed hope.
That hope is what makes Passion Pit’s music, both lyrically and sonically, so powerful. Their songs specialize in the most visceral, triumphant brand of sugary pop. Singles like “Sleepyhead” and “Constant Conversations” shimmer and shine unapologetically. So, it’s refreshing that his newest effort, Kindred, doubles down on his basic sonic blueprint without ever feeling too sugary.
The opening of “Lifted Up (1985),” with flickering synths and Angelakos’ signature falsetto, is as good an indication as any that Kindred is not making a wild departure from the rest of Passion Pit’s work. “Lifted Up,” like any great Passion Pit single, is all about buildup, swelling from marching verses into an explosion of a chorus. Others, like “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go),” deliver the kind of punchy synths that might crash a set of speakers.
But, as big as these songs are, they’re far more sophisticated than they appear on first listen. Beneath the hi-fi synths and shouts, “Whole Life Story” glitches and stutters. “All I Want” layers rapid arpeggios under the song’s syrupy melody. “Five Foot Ten (I)” threatens to fall apart under the weight of its weaving, wobbling instrumentation, but never does. Passion Pit’s music is often big and bold, but it is nothing if not immaculately crafted.
And as magnificent as the emotional highs are here, there are just as many contemplative lows. “Where the Sky Hangs” is about as close to a slow jam as we’ll get from Angelakos, his falsetto reduced to a coo and a thick, syrupy bassline marching the proceedings forward. “Dancing on the Graves” echoes early Brian Eno, melodies stretched out into cavernous creations. As immense as Kindred can feel at times, it knows when to slow down. The contrast amplifies the impact of both the triumphant and the understated.
Ultimately, at its core, Kindred is Passion Pit in full stadium mode. The mix is clearer and Angelakos’ voice feels more vulnerable. The synths, bass, and drums sound crisper than ever. And none of this is a detriment. On the contrary, it’s the most confident that Angelakos has ever sounded.
But as sophisticated as Angelakos’ compositions are, the true strength lies in his confessional songwriting. Gossamer soared because of Angelakos’ poetic, uninhibited honesty. And yet the struggle (with a tinge of hope) that informed Gossamer has become glorious optimism on Kindred. “Lifted Up” is an ode to Angelakos’ wife, exalting her support throughout Angelakos’ fights with mental illness. “Where The Sky Hangs” and “All I Want” practically burst with romantic, heartfelt energy. Passion Pit has always been sincere, but never this purely tender.
But the optimism and hope on Kindred is never overly saccharine or undeserved. On “Lifted Up,” the support of Angelakos’ wife is contrasted with his “[fighting] so hard and [coming] back beaten.” “Whole Life Story” is a heartbreaking apology to his loved ones (presumably his wife). Even the closest thing the album has to a pop single, “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go),” is preoccupied with thoughts of “godforsaken places.” Kindred’s tone and mindset doesn’t come at the cost of complexity or nuance. On Kindred, the journey to happiness is just as valuable as the destination.
I think that’s what makes Passion Pit’s body of work so essential. Angelakos’ optimism doesn’t ignore personal suffering. He understands that the process of healing is just as important as being healed, and that knowing you can heal is often the hardest part of moving forward.
All of us have our fights. All of us come back beaten. On Kindred, Michael Angelakos knows we can’t always get better. But we can come back stronger than before.