Gossamer is the second album from Boston electro-pop band Passion Pit. Gossamer is also an adjective used to describe something so thin or translucent that light shines through it, like a spider web. Shakespeare uses the word to help illustrate how stupid we act when we’re in love. (It’s also the name of this Looney Tunes character, but that’s probably not relevant). It’s interesting to consider which aspect of the word Passion Pit considered the most when naming their most recent album, following the enormous success of their 2009 release Manners.
At this point, almost two weeks after Larry Fitzmaurice’s profile on Passion Pit’s mastermind Michael Angelakos ran on Pitchfork.com, it’s almost impossible to discuss Gossamer without discussing the singer’s troubled history. The profile, published less than a week before the release of the album, documents Angelakos’ struggles with mental illness and the emotional and sometimes physical toll Passion Pit has taken on him, and mentions at least three specific instances in which he attempted or intended to commit suicide and closes with Angelakos checking into a mental health clinic, prompting the recent cancellation of several Passion Pit shows across the country.
Most reviews and other writing on the album as a result have dealt with pop music’s ability to shroud misery in music. This is in not an exceptionally new idea and is in no way unique to Passion Pit’s music in particular. However, given that the band is known primarily for blissfully brilliant pop, most fans are incredibly shocked to discover the darker side of Passion Pit. If some artists cover their misery in a glossy coating, in their first two releases, Passion Pit buried it.
The first single from Gossamer and opening track “Talk A Walk” is the most straightforward narrative on the album, telling the story of an immigrant businessman struggling to make ends meet for his family. Against a stomping beat and a single synth hook Angelakos sings about the ambition, struggle, and fear as his character faces an increasingly harsh reality. The fictionalized first person narrative seems to stand out lyrically in an album so heavily involved in self-reflection.
The song closes with the line “I’m just too much a coward to admit that I’m in need.” “Cowards never say enough is enough,” he retorts in the final song on the album “Where We Belong” which revolves around a suicide attempt made by Angelakos in college. Angelakos bookends the album with these two songs presenting different perceptions of fear and struggle to encapsulate Gossamer and make it very clear that things aren’t really okay.
Gossamer is a much different album than Manners or the Chunk of Change EP. Although colored by the same signature synth squiggles and the same falsetto vocals, the requirements of any Passion Pit song, what characterizes Gossamer is the subdued sense of uneasiness that pervades almost the entire album. Where the Chunk of Change EP was defined by an unbridled energy, bursting out with frantic excitement like teenagers drunk for the first time, Gossamer seems to reach out in desperation.
Songs like the third single, “Constant Conversations,” are more R&B than pop. About an octave lower than the rest of the album, the song is notably absent of any swirling in-your-face production. Instead, Angelakos coos sweetly to his fiancée, whom he says has undoubtedly saved his life. It could pass as a simple love song without noticing the subtle ideas of abuse, dependence, and self-loathing.
Other songs on the album are less subtle in their agony and angst. “Love Is Greed,” which opens with what sounds like a trumpeting fanfare, “On My Way,” and “I’ll Be Alright,” both of which also address his relationship with his fiancée, all seem to address crippling self-doubt, misery, and confusion, and do so rather plainly. It’s much more difficult to dismiss the distraught nature of these songs despite the pounding drums and synths. Angelakos songwriting is well aware of this, carefully restraining his powerful sound in order not to distract from his lyrics.
I’ll Be Alright
Arguably the highlight of the album, “Carried Away” is the exception to this. It’s a relatively simple song, riding a punchy beat to its catchy refrain and interrupted by a single graceful bridge. Like earlier Passion Pit songs, it shrouds itself entirely in its pop exterior, covering almost completely a somewhat hostile song about self-isolation. This song seems to suggest that Angelakos can still pump out pop hits, possibly at will, and that the subdued nature that exists so heavily on the rest of Gossamer is proof that Passion Pit is something much more than the latest indie-pop sensation. Gossamer is just that, transparent enough for Angelakos to bear his soul while barely shielding himself with his artfully crafted electro-pop songs.
For those expecting another album of summer soundtrack pop hits, Gossamer will likely be a disappointment. Gossamer is a strong album, but its strength lies in its honesty and not in its infectious ability to instantly captivate you with swirling melodies. Gossamer draws you in, but much slower, and at times, with much more difficulty.
Gossamer was released July 24 on Columbia Records.