Michael Angelakos is a complicated man who suffers from Bi-polar disorder and whose wildly varying emotions are the heart and soul of Passion Pit. He famously wears his feelings on his sleeve, and Passion Pit’s music can be like plugging your headphones into his brain and strapping in for a wild ride. It’s why Gossamer was so uneven and shifted drastically in tone from song to song. The band’s music is a direct reflection of the mental state Mr. Angelakos finds himself in at any given moment, for better or worse, and from the sound of Kindred he’s been in a very pleasant, peaceful mood lately.
Michael’s newfound positive, self-reflectiveness is embodied by the crisp, catchy collection of songs that is Kindred. Where Gossamer was manic and scatterbrained, Kindred is subdued and focused, highlighting Angelakos’ lyrical and vocal prowess and resulting in much more palatable, infectious songs. He’s learned to control the darkness around him and is putting a positive spin on it rather than letting it consume him. The lead singer and founder is happy with what he has and thankful for the experiences, whether good or bad, in his life as the themes focus more on love, forgiveness, and redemption. His mood is infectious as I couldn’t help but bounce around and smile each time I listened.
Musically, the vocal effects and disorienting layers of synths and electric instruments that were overwhelming in some previous cuts (“I’ll Be Alright”) have been given a much needed Xanax. As it turns out, Passion Pit’s style works a lot better when it’s stripped down and left room to breathe. The simple melodies and beats coupled with a restrained use of effects give Michael’s voice much greater impact.
The album comes on strong with an upbeat 1-2 punch of “Lifted Up (1985)” (this years “Take a Walk”) and “Whole Life Story”. When Angelajos sings “1985 was a good year/The sky broke apart and you appeared/Dropped from the heavens, they call me a dreamer/I won’t lie, I knew you would belong here” It’s sincere without crossing the line to schmaltzy or cringe inducing. Whole Life Story has the most plays for me so far because the revved up swing beat is irresistible and the atmospheric harpsichord sounding background is soothing but energetic.
Don’t Watch This if you have Epilepsy. Or do if you have it and love seizures.
The same goes for “Five Foot Ten (I)”, “Until We Can’t (Let’s go)” and “My Brother Taught me How to Swim”. Passion Pit has found a way to marry their strengths, catchy melodies and danceable beats, with Michael’s lyrics and attitude. All three songs are very well written and tie in with the albums overall positive outlook on life, love, and loss. Even when Michael sings, “I want to be alone” on “Five Foot Ten (I)” he means with the love of his life, not by himself. An even more poignant moment comes later on when he adds, “Well I never stopped trying to be better than that/And I’m getting so close to where I wanna be at” You want to just hug him and tell him that he is there, and this music is a culmination of Passion Pits evolution so far. Also this song is the most indulgent musically, a chorus of what sounds like Mario kart sound effects are laden all throughout, but they work and do more to heighten the atmosphere than remove you from it.
The slower cuts include “Where the sky hangs”, “All I Want” and “Looks Like Rain” which are passionate sing-alongs that will be perfect for lighter waving during their upcoming tour. The interesting part is that these aren’t droning, boring love songs, there are some surprising influences and touches that prevent them from becoming stale. “Where the sky hangs” starts out slow and airy, but has some subtle funk guitar driving it and a chilled out, funky breakdown towards the end. “All I Want” has a trippy synth melody thrown in after the chorus that harkens back to mid-90s pop music. “Looks Like Rain” has some distorted backmasking that adds to the atmosphere. We expect the electric dance music from Passion Pit, but these complex compositions are a welcome change. Their unique style fairs well when utilized in this context and I found myself enjoying the intricacies and details of these after further listens.
Even when they go a little too over the top on production and auto-tune on “Ten Feet Tall (II)”, they pull back the synth and let the vocal effect take the spotlight. It doesn’t work completely but it’s at least changing the delivery method for their bag of tricks. Throughout Kindred the band takes plenty of gambles and their music sounds more refined and evolved for it even when it’s not perfect. Instead of half-baked ideas and concepts stretched too thin, there are fully fleshed out ideas with captivating nuances added in for effect. Clocking in at a svelte 10 songs and 37 minutes, the entire package has high relistenability and remains catchy even at (checking iTunes) 8 listens so far. Whether you want to dance your ass off on molly or relax to some mood music, Kindred delivers on all fronts.
Passion Pit has discovered how to marry the multitude of concepts, instruments, styles, and effects into a cohesive package. There isn’t a dud in this polished group of jams. They’ve figured out a way to refine their music without losing their signature style that made them famous. This is easily the best Passion Pit album that I’ve heard thus far, and makes me really excited to see what they come up with next. Here’s to hoping Michael Angelakos can keep his head on straight. When he’s in a good mood, their music is inspiring.
Image via Music Times