Passion Pit - Gossamer (2012)
Full disclosure: I never expected a band like Passion Pit to make a record like this. I wasn’t exactly shocked by the way that Gossamer turned out, but I was surprised. Some credit must be given for the element of surprise, but if 2012 has taught us anything, it’s that surprises in the music biz are rarely as rewarding as they seem. Just last month, for instance, Snoop Dogg ‘shocked’ the world by retiring his longstanding canine moniker and rebranding himself as “Snoop Lion.” It was good for a laugh, but in a matter of months (weeks? days?), nobody is going to care.
Using such a ridiculous example to illustrate a point about a self-evidently ‘serious’ album makes me cringe a little bit, but then again, so does this record. With Gossamer, Massachusetts’ Passion Pit (essentially the one man project of Michael Angelakos), has made the completely illogical transition from a bubbly, post-MGMT synth pop act to an utterly self-lambasting, miserable singer/songwriter project. Although the synthy bounce of their past records (the 2008 Chunk of Change EP and 2009’s Manners) is still there, bubbling away into oblivion, the focus here is on Angelakos’ lyrics. Angelakos, as it turns out, is a poor, wounded soul with lots of problems, and he seems utterly content to divulge all of them on Gossamer. Whether he’s singing about his alcoholism (“Carried Away”), his bipolar disorder (“Cry Like A Ghost”), or his general, vague malaise (“It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy”), Angelakos does so with a complete lack of subtlety and grace. Listening to Angelakos sing his lyrics is like watching a bear accidentally stumble into someone’s backyard, knocking over trashcans and lawn gnomes and generally not having any clue what it’s doing or how to get out. On “Carried Away,” a chiming, 80s-influenced pop song, the bridge is actually built on the line “We all have problems.” Even more embarrassingly, Angelakos delivers the line as if it were some profound revelation about human suffering. This much is clear: on Gossamer, Angelakos is completely and utterly out of his lyrical element.
Worse still, he’s out of touch with the purpose that his project actually serves. At its core, Passion Pit is a pop band, and a very adequate one at that. Their hooks are strong (“I’ll Be Alright” in particular is a highlight in the catchiness department), and the production is thick and sugary enough to invoke a feeling of celebration. But although it might scan like one on the surface, Gossamer is not some kind of revelry in humanity’s ability to surmount difficulties via “the human condition” or whatever. It is, instead, a thoroughly misanthropic, almost solipsistic record with no transcendant statement to be made whatsoever, beyond “I’m sad; help me.” The only thing that Gossamer has going for it is novelty; hearing someone self-loathe over poppy, ebullient instrumentals provides a pleasant and occasionally interesting contrast, but that novelty wears thin quickly. I have no doubt that the issues that Michael Angelakos faces are legitimate, and I’ll even give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s not hyperbolizing too much on this record, but it’s impossible for me to appreciate Gossamer as great art when lines like “We’re both so broken!” are delivered with straight-faced sincerity.
Angelakos spends so much time focused on himself on this record that it becomes hard to believe that he even regards the existence of anyone else, save for the multiple faceless female characters named on Gossamer, who only appear to exist to make Angelakos feel better about himself. Perhaps it’s fitting then that the opener “Take A Walk” — the only song in which the focus isn’t on Angelakos — is actually the worst of the bunch: a tactless political anthem that strives for self-aware sarcasm but ends up inducing major cringes. It isn’t helped by the fact that the chorus and beat are unmemorable at best, and occasionally verge into ‘offensively bad’ territory.
Though few and far between, there are moments on Gossamer that hint at some self-awareness, and others that manage to transcend the hampering qualities of the lyrics. The How Do Dress Well-aping “Constant Conversations” is a liquid smooth R&B slow jam that approaches Angelakos’ issues from a much more relaxed perspective, making for an understated standout on an otherwise maximalist record. On the other hand, “Love Is Greed” finds Angelakos urgently wondering, “if we really love ourselves, how do you love somebody else?” It’s an important question to ask, because although he evidently doesn’t love himself, Angelakos is certainly obsessed with himself. Perhaps if he could recognize that, he could begin solving some of the problems that Gossamer so gracelessly addresses.
As a musician myself who creates music within the singer/songwriter tradition, I don’t think I’m stepping out of my bounds when I say that if Passion Pit operated in the realm of folk music, the kind of lyrical tactlessness represented on Gossamer would be inexcusable. Although the interesting sonic palette and occasionally strong hooks work to offset some of the intensely negative feelings I have towards the lyrics on this LP, I can’t get past the fact that it scans like a lengthy, overwrought LiveJournal poetry entry. If you can overlook that, this record might be worth exploring, but if you appreciate graceful or in any way well-executed writing, stay far away.
Gossamer is out now on Columbia Records.