It was in the car, on the way back from a weekend getaway, that I first heard a song from Passion Pit’s sophomore album “Gossamer” on the radio. My roommate turned on Radio 104.5, and it took me a second before I realized what I was hearing. The chanting of children and the thumping synths sounded familiar, but it wasn’t until lead singer Michael Angelakos piped up with his nonconformist falsetto that I recognized that it was indeed Passion Pit’s “Carried Away.”
My initial reaction was one of excitement due to the fact that one of my favorite bands was getting much-deserved airplay. But that excitement quickly turned into a hipster-like ambivalence. Would my generation, lobotomized by vapid pop songs, appreciate the lyrics?
It’s a valid concern, considering how frequently our culture ignores lyrical content when a song is “catchy.” Take for example “Pumped Up Kicks,” one of last year’s inescapable hits. Aside from the infectious chorus, the song alluded to the Columbine massacre of 1999 and was meant to be Mark Foster’s platform for igniting a dialogue about gun violence. But after it was used in a variety of commercials and montages, any residual meaning from the song was stripped.
Admittedly, “Carried Away” is a great choice for radio release for Passion Pit. The sing-along chorus and the peppy arrangement suggest that the song could become the next “Tongue Tied.” But beyond those facets it also features Angelakos presumably describing the emotional aftermath of a stormy breakup.
This juxtaposition of pleasing tracks and lyrics with deeper meaning has always been characteristic of the band. “Gossamer” is chock full of heartbreaking stories of substance abuse, depression and mental illness (a personal struggle for Angelakos).
His story is a tragic one. At 18 the singer was diagnosed as bipolar, and he’s struggled with suicidal thoughts for years. Recently he’s made his mental health a priority, leading to the cancellation of several July tour dates for Passion Pit.
The new album gave Passion Pit’s frontman an outlet to describe his anguish, most notably on “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy.”
“I could live with so many burdens. I take all your hope and yearnings. But there’s nowhere I won’t take me for their petty little woes,” Angelakos laments. “It’s not fair. … Still I’m the only one who seems to care.”
That the topic could be so shockingly real and the song still inspiring is a true testament to Passion Pit’s ability to make even the darkest stories airy with gleaming beats and strums. The band’s music is best appreciated on two levels — the initial appeal of the songs’ perky compositions and an understanding of the deeper lyrical content.
“Take A Walk,” the album’s lead single, is the band at its best. Synths and instruments blend perfectly, and a thumping drumbeat sets the tone for Angelakos’ melody. He sings of the struggles of immigrant life and how the recession takes its toll on a family trying to make it in America. Yet the track is pedestrian enough to be the perfect soundtrack to any summer party.
The music video is largely a tribute to Philadelphia, featuring several gorgeous shots of the skyline. A video was also released for the song “Constant Conversations,” a wailing downtempo tune about doublespeak and betrayal. Both videos are unique with a stunning artistic edge.
“Gossamer” has been out for nearly two weeks now, holding the top spot on iTunes for several days before finally being ousted by the likes of Rick Ross and Joss Stone. The band’s fans seem to appreciate their artistic progression, as I certainly do.
Let’s be clear: Passion Pit’s sophomore effort is nothing like its first album. Sonically, the band has come far since “Sleepyhead,” the (no pun intended) sleeper hit that ignited the young group’s career. But what separates the new album from “Manners” is what makes it uniquely fantastic.
I imagine the album title “Gossamer” alludes to the “Looney Tunes” monster of the same name. Under his cute and fluffy exterior was a volatile being capable of powerful rage and unexpected emotion. I can’t say if they had the cartoon character in mind when they named this masterpiece, but the shoe seems to fit.