Passion Pit – Gossamer

Fragile, powerful, honest and painfully beautiful: in short, a triumph.

Released: 23/07/2012 on Columbia

I will openly admit that the first time I heard Gossamer my reaction was one of disappointment. I felt that the songs were overproduced and messy, that the beauty of Michael Angelakos' lyrics were lost amongst the cacophony of chipmunk vocal effects and heavy-handed synths. Compared to the instant gratification gained from the joyous electro pop of debut album Manners, Gossamer ironically felt weighted down and difficult to penetrate. Then the stories started appearing – the band were cancelling shows left and right, interviews and articles detailing Angelakos' tragic mental health issues surfaced. I listened with fresh ears and a new perspective, and Gossamer broke my heart clean in two.

Gossamer is a perfect, yet at the same time rather unsuitable title for Passion Pit's sophomore release. There's a sense of fragility throughout the album, Angelakos and his state of mind a delicate thread being blown every which way by metaphorical crosswinds. Yet there's a resoluteness and a strength to it too, a sense that through this brutal, sometimes painfully honest music, there will come salvation. Angelakos is arguably one of the most talented lyricists of his generation and he absolutely shines on this album, his every emotion laid bare; always evocative and heart-rending but never overwrought.

There are still elements of the upbeat pop that made Manners such a popular album here, it's just that this time around they are shot through with much darker lyrical undertones. The closest Passion Pit come to replicating their previous sound is on 'Carried Away', an absurdly catchy uptempo track which stands out amongst the darker and more experimental tracks that litter Gossamer, and happily improves on much of what they achieved on Manners. The band have diversified significantly on this album, from the thumping narrative of opener 'Take A Walk' to the heavily R'n'B influenced 'Constant Conversations'. For the most part, this admirable attempt to try something new succeeds wonderfully, and it's only on tracks where the quirkiness is turned down a notch, such as 'Hideaway' and 'On My Way' that things become a little stale.

Passion Pit are the masters of producing tracks that on the surface appear joyful but upon further exploration reveal themselves to be something else entirely. It's this quality that allow the tracks to be enjoyed on two levels; they can be appreciated on a purely superficial level but also furnish the listener with a compelling and often heartbreaking insight into the psyche of a deeply troubled man. The aforementioned 'Constant Conversations' and second single 'I'll Be Alright' are perfect examples of this, as both document an extremely difficult time in Angelakos' life where his mental health deteriorated drastically and his relationship with fiancee Kristy Mucci was at its most strained. Yet both could easily fool the casual listener into believing they were listening to something much lighter. It's this juxtaposition, coupled with Angelakos' unflinchingly honest lyrics, that makes Gossamer so utterly brilliant.

As clever, as soulful and as emotive as Gossamer is, my initial criticisms still stand to some extent - in particular, the chipmunk vocal effects still make me wince. Considering Angelakos' vocal range spans four octaves, anything more high pitched just seems ludicrous. The album also appears to lose its way after 'Mirrored Sea' and doesn't really reveal anything truly great until 'Love Is Greed'. Fortunately this and the final two tracks that follow form a trio of the most beautiful and touching songs on the album. 'Love Is Greed' positively sparkles, being one of those aforementioned happy-but-sad songs, pondering the selfishness of love and the self-sacrificial ideal of being alone to save hurting anyone else. 'It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy' is dreamlike and tender, and 'Where We Belong' is frankly astonishing. Depicting a real-life attempt by Angelakos to commit suicide, it concludes the album on a tragic but oddly hopeful note, the final words of the album being “It's hard to keep on living where your heart is but I knew you'd help/All I’ve ever wanted was to be happy and make you proud”.

It would take a hard-hearted person to not be drawn in to Angelakos' struggle to maintain his sanity, so honestly and unrelentingly laid out for the world to see and pick apart here on Gossamer. The album is something of a purge, each song a therapy session, and like in therapy you hope that at the end of the sessions the person will be somewhat healed. As of now, it would appear that for Angelakos there is still a long way to go. But Gossamer is nothing if not a lesson in hope, and I for one genuinely hope that the next Passion Pit album will chronicle his life at a happier point. I wish him all the luck in the world.

Turn On: Take A Walk, Carried Away, Where We Belong

Turn Off: Hideaway

UnderSong Rating
8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆