james debate
james debate

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Genre Electropop, synthpop, indie pop, indie rock
Label Columbia
Producers Michael Angelakos, Chris Zane

passion pit gossamer

The origin story of Passion Pit is a famously romantic one, the sort of 'humble beginnings' anecdote that's tailor-made for the hype machine. 

Then college student Michael Angelakos whipped together a quick home-brewed five song EP for his lady friend. While the production was undeniably rough around the edges, the music itself was something beyond your average bedroom songwriter; imaginative and infectious enough to catch on and spread first through the college and then the blogosphere. Soon the whole internet was abuzz. 

It was not long before a record deal followed, and the resulting debut album Manners was something of a triumph, a giddy blaze of euphoric pop that's in equal parts anthemic people-pleaser and sincerest introspection. 

With the follow up Gossamer, Angelakos is once again writing and co-producing the album in its entirety. The aim this time around seems to be evolution, a maturation of the distinct sound that served the band so well the first time.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than with the first single released from the album Take a Walk. The decidedly more pensive opening chords really set the tone for the album by drawing a stark contrast with the explosion of synth that heralded the opening of their first album. What follows is the story of a struggling family in recession-era America, a tableau of personal tales that touch on hot button issues from immigration to the welfare state. It marks a new, more poignant direction for a band who's past lyrics include such chin scratchers as "cuddle fuddle" and "let your love grow tall". 

It's always a risky move for a musician to delve into political commentary, but this is merely one example of a more serious approach to songwriting on show here. Subject matter runs the gamut from relationships to depression and alcoholism, with confrontation against one's own demons a common thread. The clear aim is for this to be a more 'human' album, one that feels more directly personal to the listener, as opposed to what some may describe as the purely cathartic musical rush of their debut.

That's not to say that this album has abandoned the sugary highs. Dangerously catchy and sunny numbers like Carried Away still remain, even if they may not overwhelm listeners with the same stomping level of energy as in earlier work. Gossamer perhaps lacks some of the trademark reckless abandon that typified the debut album, but makes up for it with a greater depth and variety to the work.

A great example of this is Constant Conversationsone of the more sublime tracks on the album and a drastic new musical direction for the band. The band trades hyper-energetic pop stylings for a more r&b  flavour, a soulful pondering of personal failings that effortlessly mingles dark, regretful lyrics with detached, unnervingly carefree melody.

Certainly Gossamer will lack some of the raw catharsis that made the band so noteworthy in the first place. That being said, these new songs carry an impact all their own, with greater contrast between the emotional highs and lows. At their pinnacle, these songs are the better for this fact.

To illustrate this point I look to Hideaway. A song of extremes, Hideaway starts with distorted notes of sadness and peaks with a chorus of pure ebullience. This is Gossamer at its finest, capturing the full range of Angelakos' fervor in one song, from depression to mania. Indeed it is hard not to consider this music in the context of the songwriter's recently divulged bi-polar issues, but that's a whole case study unto itself.

Of course, what matters above all is the quality of the music and this is where Gossamer unequivocally succeeds. Hideaway and Constant Conversations (mentioned above) are highlights along with the superb It's Not My Fault I'm Happy, itself almost a marriage of the styles of Passion Pit and the steadier tenor of an artist like Coldplay, and the closest Gossamer has to a song like previous hit Moth's Wings.

But the reality is that most of the songs are good, and all of them are worth listening to. It's an album that works on the individual merit of each song, and together as a whole, and certainly one of the better albums of 2012 so far. It may not pack the 'wow' factor of the debut, but it does very well to progress the band's style and in many ways has improved the level of quality.

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