Release Date: Apr 21, 2015
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop
Michael Angelakos and his Passion Pit crew make music that jars. Despite coming dipped in E numbers, there’s a darkness that lurks around every chorus, buried deep in every line. Under that cloud of major chord candy floss exists a rotting, maggot-covered stick, and though sometimes the gloom is overt (‘Love Is Greed’ doesn’t leave much room for misinterpretation), more often than not it’s executed with a subtlety that means Passion Pit, as a whole, are largely misunderstood.
Married after his group's previous album, Gossamer, having split from prior bandmates, and appearing in a PSA about the importance of his having sought professional help for his bipolar disorder, frontman Michael Angelakos presents a gratitude-imbued, relatively ballad-heavy, but still sparkling third Passion Pit LP in Kindred. In no great shift from the distinctive sound of previous records, it is, if anything, even more sugary in the synth palette and high end, as on the lullaby-leaning tones and melody of the candy-lacquered, ultra-falsettoed "Dancing on the Grave. " Requisite redwood-sized beats and quirky noise doodles are also aboard, with strong reflections of '80s Scritti Politti trebles shining through, particularly on the playful "Five Foot Ten (I).
Since a tell-all 2012 Pitchfork cover story, Michael Angelakos’ struggles with bipolar disorder have been well documented. Recently, the Passion Pit frontman joined forces with nonprofit Bring Change 2 Mind to help lead a campaign that aims to destigmatize mental health issues. Angelakos’ growth into an advocate for the community of people who struggle with mental illness reflects his headspace on Kindred, which showcases the singer beginning to overcome his past trials and tribulations.
Passion Pit’s M.O. has basically stayed the same since 2009’s breakthrough debut Manners. The 27-year-old frontman, founder and sole member Michael Angelakos overlays a bunch of wild, cool synths and swirling swooshing sounds with his often-Auto-tuned falsetto in shiny major-label pop casings that bury the stories about things that matter. Even after 2012’s Gossamer and Angelakos’ willingness to share his struggles with bipolar disorder through his songs (as well as outside of them), Passion Pit stays the course with its third studio album, Kindred.
On a casual listen, pretty much everything Passion Pit puts out sounds joyfully, euphorically saccharine — especially when the glittery vocals are in such a high register that it can be hard to make out just what main man Michael Angelakos is singing. There are near-blinding levels of vibrancy to his synth-pop — so much so that one can’t help but assume that his songs are meant to be upbeat, a surface-level reading that obscures darker lyrics about fraying relationships, alcohol abuse, and mental illness. Passion Pit’s just-released third album, Kindred, is different in that it really is happy underneath all the glitz — or, at least, optimistic.
Behind Passion Pit’s glossy synth pop, there has always been a much darker tale. Michael Angelakos, who is the man solely behind the moniker, has been open about his struggles dealing with bipolar disorder – which he was diagnosed with when he was in his late teens – ever since the release of second album Gossamer in 2012. The revelation shed a completely new light on Passion Pit’s exuberant and highly polished pop sound.
Keep your ears open, and you can hear Passion Pit everywhere around you: in fast food commercials and YouTube pre-roll ads you can’t wait to skip, the skewed pop maximalism of PC Music and its imitators, the glossy hybrid EDM-pop of Madeon and Zedd, even the clutter of Taylor Swift’s work with Jack Antonoff on 1989. It’s easy to take for granted now, but Michael Angelakos’ first two records shifted the pop paradigm in meaningful ways. Manners hooked up the '80s synth-pop of M83’s Saturdays=Youth to a glucose IV, piling on children’s choirs and waves of orchestration and Angelakos’ signature falsetto until it forced you into submission; three years later, Gossamer ramped up the density, scale, and emotional rawness of Angelakos’ writing, as he built glittering castles around love, death, and the redeeming power of joy.
Unlike most 28-year-olds, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos probably hasn’t spent much time in Ikea. The early success of his Chunk of Change EP and its subsequent LP Manners made the band an indie-pop darling and led to a deal with Columbia Records for sophomore follow-up Gossamer. A few gigs headlining festivals is all it takes to leave the world of budget home furnishings behind, and that’s a real shame, because with new LP Kindred, Angelakos may not realize that what he’s released is the musical equivalent of a white HEMNES bookcase.
In an interview with Pitchfork in 2012, Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos spoke candidly about depression, suicide and substance abuse. It was something of a revelation, recontextualising his candy-coloured compositions and opening the lid on an artist whose personality was otherwise unknown. Angelakos addresses some of the fallout from those revelations on his third LP: “Sorry darling,” he sings to his wife on Whole Life Story.
If you found getting through the previous album from Passion Pit and company to be a bit of a slog, you're definitely not alone. Gossamer shouted from the rooftops, displaying itself in blazing neon colours, but it was masking suffocating darkness. Michael Angelakos's struggles with anxiety and depression have been well-documented, to the extent that one wondered if there'd even be a third Passion Pit record.
Passion Pit are excellent at sounding like Passion Pit — they've mastered the art of pairing emotionally naked lyrics with sweet, lush synth beats. On their third LP, though, that strength becomes a fault, as the band's tender vibes begin to blur into sameness. Singer Michael Angelakos' writing remains sharp, telling stories about family drama that are complex yet conversational.
Plenty of acts thrive on the dissonances created by their music or their public image, and it seems as if Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos wants to be counted among them. The sunny, energetic performances on his albums have always been at odds with contentious, downright hellish tour and studio reports; dating back to when Angelakos debuted the project as a solo act during his Emerson College days, his music's unrelenting buoyancy has always been sandbagged by melancholic lyrics. This characterizes a would-be formalist exercise in pop contrasts, except it isn't so much meaningful dichotomies that have defined Passion Pit's output as plain difficulty.
Passion Pit main man Michael Angelakos has always been at his most efficient when heading up a one-man assembly line that cranks out tight four-minute singles predestined as soundtracks for New Year’s Eve balloon drops. Each cut features a tense but giddy buildup, a dizzying payoff loaded with more bells and whistles than a Japanese game show, and a glum aftermath made real by a lyrical awareness that life ain’t even close to perfect—not far off from a glass of champagne with a fleck of cigarette ash floating near its rim. Sometimes, though, it can be tough to hear solemnity through a sound that resembles a Tickle Me Elmo slowly being backed over by a car.
The irony has never been lost on Michael Angelakos. The Passion Pit frontman, who started the band in Boston when he was a student at Emerson College, writes songs dripping with sugar-sweet melodies and euphoric dance-pop choruses. But at the heart of the music is deep melancholy riddled with Angelakos’s anxiety and unease with the trappings of fame.
For Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, 1985 was a very good year, as the album’s first single, “Lifted Up (1985)” confirms. Chronicling love (in the past and present tenses) seems to be the fuel powering the engine of this deeply ’80s New Wave-inspired disc. “Whole Life Story” is Angelakos’s bouncy this-is-our-love-and-nobody-else’s anthem, complete with a clean Stratocaster belting chords that recall Bibio’s Lovers Carvings as the sound of vinyl meeting a stylus quietly scratches above the track before a thumping bassline and handclaps chime in, sounding like an outtake from 2009’s hit disc, Manners.
opinion by ZACHARY BERNSTEIN A fellow PMA writer recently quipped, “80s nostalgia now feels like it’s lasted longer than the actual 80s.” He’s absolutely right – but the fault for this seemingly ingrained generational yearning does not lie entirely with the artists. Music critics and fans alike (myself very much included) enjoy endlessly equating the new with the old, and lately it seems like every band that trots out a synthesizer and danceable beat will be slathered with the compliment/epithet of channeling the Reagan decade. Over the course of its five-year career, Passion Pit has been one such band.
Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos is a master of creating ebullient, triumphant-sounding pop, even as he sings about a life on the verge of unraveling. It's an unlikely mix — buoyant yet unsettling, and all the more potent because the artist doesn't try to resolve the conflict. There is no tidy happily-ever-after in this tale. Yet compared to its predecessor, "Gossamer," which debuted at No.
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The Passion Pit story, from a journalistic point of view, used to be a simple enough exercise. In 2008, Boston native Michael Angelakos made a handful of songs for a lady that he was particularly fond of at the time, that would end up winging their way out to the world in the form of the Chunk of Change EP. Shortly afterwards, he was signed to a major label - Columbia - and released a superb debut full-length, Manners, in 2009, while assembling a live band to tour it across the world.
It can't be a coincidence that Passion Pit's latest record comes out just as we're getting a taste of summer temperatures. The Michael Angelakos-led project is known for deceptively sunny pop hits, where vocals mimic synths and lively beats mask dark themes. But Kindred is more than just summer festival fodder. It's the sequel to 2012's Gossamer, which candidly focused on Angelakos's struggles with depression and substance abuse.