Music has always had its fair share of tortured souls; Ian Curtis, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and Syd Barrett are just a few of the names that could feature on such a list. Unsurprisingly, much of their emotional and mental strife inspire these artists, and then trickle over to their songs and albums; ‘Rehab’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’ are obvious examples of such a phenomena.
One person you don’t expect to hear in this group though is Michael Angelakos – lead singer and sole song writer of chirpy electro-pop outfit Passion Pit – who has been struggling with bipolar disorder since he was 18, spending the last few months in and out of a mental hospital which has simultaneously lead to the cancellation of many tour dates.
After all, Passion Pit’s debut album Manners was composed of songs that sounded like a joyous euphoric celebration of life. It was the musical equivalent of eating a 99 whilst dancing on a hot sunny beach; gloominess, sorrow and and turmoil were the last words to come to mind. Despite Angelakos personal problems, second album Gossamer follows a very similar format.
Opening with lead single ‘Take a Walk’, the LP starts with a head-pumping rush of sugariness and power pop with a drumbeat pulling you through the song. It’s Passion Pit at their best, with a song as infectious and anthemic as those on Manners; even if the lyrics are on the more serious issue of the struggles of a family man (and is built around a remarkably menial chorus which repeats the song title). The trend continues with ‘I’ll Be Alright’ with a mishmash of electronic stutters beginning the song, which soon becomes a sort of pro-breakup ‘I’ll be alright if you leave’ ballad, with jittery digital sampling.
The album’s best track is, however, when Angelakos loses any sense of lyrical brooding and bleakness and goes full-hearted into poppy dance happiness. ‘Carried Away’, which includes backing from Swedish trio Erato, goes into synth-pop heaven, bouncing through 3 minutes and 40 seconds of mesmerising layers of vocals and electronic swoops. To use an awful pun, it’s pretty hard not to get Carried Away with it.
That’s not to say the more slower-paced despondent songs don’t work. ‘Cry Like A Ghost’ has a haunting quality to it that’s hard not to like, whilst ‘Mirrored Sea’ has a slight shoegaze tinge and it’s frenetic nature drives the song along extremely successfully. ‘It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy’ also shows a new direction for the band; strings create a thick timbre which makes it seem like an electronic-pop version of Arcade Fire with baroque vibes woven through the song
However, others also fail. R&B-based track ‘Constant Conversations’ never truly ignites, trundling along with too many “ohh, ohh, ohh-oh” in the background and makes me feel like I’m listening to Owl City (trust me, thats never a good thing). ‘On My Way’ works in a Mika-esque manner of melodramatic childishness; “Let’s get married, I’ll buy a ring and then we’ll consecrate this messy love” with whoops of “ohhs” interspersed in. Not exactly Dylan, is it?
I can ignore these duds though; the main problem is that the album still sounds just a bit too happy. It whirls you through the twelve tracks in one blur of manic panic. It is hard not to get lost, with all the songs becoming one. Passion Pit fail to strike the right balance achieved by similar bands Foster the People and The Naked & Famous. I feel, at the end of it, like I’ve spent all day at a sweet shop and feel a bit sick from eating so many.
Of course, in reality, the songs aren’t happy, with personal demon lyrics referencing drinking, suicide and broken-hearted love. However, such messages of melancholy disappear in the haze of sheer upbeatness that the band create with their swirling synth rhythms and twittering symphony of sound. It just gets a little bit grating.
I guess thats the message of the album though; that there is a very gossamer balance between happy and sad, in the same way that there is a delicate balance between joy and saccharine. Passion Pit have delivered an interesting album and should be up there filling in the void left by MGMT‘s mainstream departure, and covering the gaps until the next Friendly Fires album. They won’t though.
Taking each track separately, Gossamer makes up a very good collection of songs. As an album though, it is just a bit too much.