It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the success of Passion Pit is solely rooted in its sugary, sunshine-pop eruptions. At it’s core–and as the brainchild of front man Michael Angelakos– the project has consistently carved-out its own, redefining, niche in pop music. We may have first been seduced by the audacious compositions of Manners; but the sobering chill of Gossamer‘s hauntingly brutal lyricism sealed the deal.
It was a superb album and an even harder act to follow. Many band’s struggle to redefine themselves after colossal hits or even worse, choose to remain complacent by deciding to stick to an aging formula that worked once. Kindred isn’t about recreating success or style. For one thing, many of the songs on the record are stripped of Passion Pit’s staple–overdone synth embellishments–leaving Angelakos’ helium croons naked and vulnerable.
On both the apology-laden chorus of, “Whole Life Story,” and the cheery, “All I Want,” looping piano keys and clapped melodies are the only accompaniment his vocals receive.
“I get caught up in your heartstrings/Way up, where all of the sky hangs,” Angelakos’ sings tenderly on the warm single, “Where the Sky Hangs.” It’s another no-frills performance–his vocals cozying up to elated finger-snaps, subdued-but-groovy guitars, twinkling glockenspiels, and velvet string ensembles.
The phenomenal ballad, “Dancing on the Graves,” is one of Kindred‘s highlights; its an emotionally charged track that sees an emboldened Angelakos–wielding nothing but his mellifluous vocals–shaking his fist in defiance at the temptation of self-indulgent misery.
“Someone hold me as I turn the night away, away/Someone hold me to the ultraviolet ray, ray/Oh come and celebrate, we’re dancing on your grave/Of the nights we couldn’t sleep, oh I can’t stay here,” the young singer murmurs against glinting tones and swelling strings.
The dreamy nursery rhyme in, “Looks Like Rain,” echoes Kindred‘s thematic focus on Angelakos’ pubescence–its somber imagery a reminder of the ripe innocence that was once so commonplace.
If Gossamer was an attempt to introduce ardent songwriting, then Kindred sees Angelakos experimenting with the boundaries of his voice. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have any. A lot of the “synth” that you hear on the album’s songs are actually reworked clips of Angelakos’ vocals, twisted by computers and pedals, until they resemble little more than sonorous yips.
“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,” he sings on the familiarly inflated, goose-bump inducing melodies of “Lifted Up (1985).”
The raucous “Five Foot Ten” is painted with the noisy explosions of Manners-era synth; while “My Brother Taught Me How to Swim” alternates between thrashing bass and oozing rhythms that reverberate fluidly against layered and manipulated vocalizations.
“Until We Can’t Let Go (Let’s Go)” is a dizzying hurricane of polychromatic keyboards and Angelakos’ electric trills. “Somebody else told me something about/Where you live can cause you suffering/Guess that’s something else that’s wrong with our room/With the walls colliding” his pained, but rousing, words take you by the hand and drag us towards that moment in childhood when we all believed–however naively–that a better life was hidden somewhere outside our bedroom window.
Kindred–and seemingly Passion Pit’s journey thus far–comes full circle in the ballooning decadence of phasers and orchestral fluctuations within “Ten Feet Tall.” Angelakos’ unfiltered lyricisms also shift away from the album’s reminiscence of childhood–and towards what seems to be a hinting at 2012’s tour cancellation. The cause of which was revealed to be the deterioration of the young singer’s bipolar condition (which fans previously did not know of) and subsequent hospitalization under suicide watch.
“These motherfuckers and their goddamn roasts/Praying what they say is what goes, pretending no one knows/They put you down, you could get back on your tour/Saying that I sing these songs, and singing what I love,” Angelakos’ warbled vocals sizzle with impassioned pride and insolence in the song’s anthemic outburst of unapologetic synth.
This pivotal third album is as much an attempt to use a narrative devoted to the odyssey of adolescence as a catharsis, as it is a Bildungsroman for the band itself. Passion Pit sticks to the infectiously honeyed hooks that have always reeled us in–but pulsating underneath those synthetic currents is the organic, beating heart of Kindred‘s genius.
Angelakos’ boldly honest songwriting pumps out episodic glimpses into the tenacious anti-climaxes, inconsistencies, and heartaches that riddle our lives from childhood to adulthood. Each soulful falsetto sears the emotive candidness of his songs’ otherwise bubbly melodies into our skin.
Yesterday, tragedy may have struck–you were five-foot ten and the world was falling apart. But today you are ten-feet tall, three records in, and selling out Madison Square Garden. Well done Mr. Angelakos, well done.
Kindred is out now via Columbia Records.