Passion Pit - Gossamer
Synth-pop is a great genre, don't get me wrong. The heights scaled sonically by acts such as Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys were admirable and enjoyable. It was an 80s thing. Today's purveyors of sugar-laced delights employ slightly more subtlety to their artistry than those early trail blazers, reflecting a more cynical and demanding environment for highly qualified pop music. Even Lady Gaga ensures a basic level of substance is present in her unashamedly made for radio music. Passion Pit are no different. Whilst their approach to a pop song is usually the sledgehammer method, they attempt to gain some ground through lyrical content, to achieve some semblance of depth or meaning within a hardcore pop release. At times it comes off, but a lot of the time it produces this perplexing mix of sweetly sung lyrics with a darker message, losing any impact it may have had through the poor choice of tone.
The weird thing about Gossamer is that it feels like an extension, or a built-up version of their debut LP Manners. For their sophomore effort, the formula has been basically left alone, apart from an injection of sugar that manages to explode on every single track in to an indistinguishable mess of electronic and synthesizer sounds. It feels like both their records were cut during the same recording session, I'm not sure why it took 3 years to write and record Gossamer. Progression or change is minimal, which is unfortunate, because although Manners was solid, it left you almost as soon as it entered, and it left nothing behind. It wasn't a deep record, it was short and explosive but ultimately shallow.
Gossamer opens well enough, in fact Take A Walk is the best track on the album, the thumping halting drum beat catches the ear and Angelakos' sings sweetly about taxes and loans and finances, which is weird but it seems to fit. The chorus isn't shoved down our throats either, which is possibly why it is so likeable. The calm 'take a walk' being repeated, slightly muted, allows the mix of drum and riff to present itself fully which is positive as it is a welcome combination.
From there things don't fall away until the 4th song. Both I'll Be Alright and Carried Away are quite well sorted pop songs. I'll Be Alright is propelled ably by the over-worked drummer (or drum machine I suspect in some parts), and Carried Away isn't quite as 'epic' as the rest of the album attempts to be, a funky bass-line and some major chords on the keyboard perfectly match the lovely falsetto chorus that appears to have been propped up with some studio magic. 'Let's agree there's no need, no more talk of money / Let's just keep pretending to be friends, oh oh oh'. It's nice, it's light and flowery.
Gossamer then loses its way quite spectacularly. Constant Conversations is like a shot of valium straight to your heart considering the frenetic pace that Passion Pit usually operate at. It's slow and quite lowly, when Angelakos invites with 'everybody now' and the choir-like sing a long of 'Oo ooh ooo' it isn't uplifting or invigorating, which is I'm sure what the band were going for, it feels old and played out, even childish. It's a pity because it's lyrics are more focused, even if they feel slightly more off-handed. Michael Angelakos appears as his most honest self, describing a disagreement, most likely in a relationship, that is turning sour and reducing both parties to their lowliest methods, 'Now you're standing in the kitchen / And you're pouring out a drink / There's a very obvious difference / And it's that one of us can think'. Why does it need the sing a long in the middle?
Moving forward you're greeted by an impenetrable wall of electronically produced noise and sound. At times it's so thick you're reminded of My Bloody Valentine, trying to pick individual sounds or moments out of the mess is impossible. On My Way begins slowly but then intermittently throws noise at your ears, obscuring some strong and clear lyrical work from Angelakos, 'Just believe in me, Kristina / All these demons, I can beat them' he pleads. Of course it would be slightly more palatable if I wasn't becoming increasingly infuriated with the falsetto delivery employed by Michael Angelakos. He sings at times these haunting snippets of a sour, stranger life, but he sings them in such a way as to ensure they are not endearing or relatable, rather they feel perplexing and forced, as if he doesn't quite mean them, he's depressed or upset for the sake of a deeper context. Where We Belong, the final track on the record and the strongest lyrically, gems such as this 'Who says that God exists? / We can’t see icons or myths, but / Well, I believe in you / Do you believe in me, too?', starts brilliantly with Angelakos ditching his height-seeking notes for a lower and more ponderous tone. That is until 'Who says you ought to stay? / How’s this the easier way?' and he breaks out his falsetto again, ruining the impactful delivery and thoughtful vibe of the song as he does so often by cheapening it, turning it in to something that wouldn't be amiss on a childrens record.
At least these instances showcase straighter lyrical themes. At times there appears to be no meaning, or reason, behind certain words being placed together in sentences. Mirrored Sea, a swirling mass of synth noise, features the chorus 'no let me be you mirrored sea / you raise you're hunting me / out in the sea, you feel'. At least that's what I think he sings.. His accent is at times hard to pin down and I'm sure leads to some misheard lyrics. They get lost in the sound quite regularly too. Cry Like A Ghost features some tough self-truths but can get completely lost as your attention is taken up by a throbbing bass line that doesn't seem to match. Hideaway, I'm almost certain he is saying something meaningful and worth hearing, but what!? This apparent hatred of anything but high falsetto with matching electronics can be very frustrating.
2.5/10. I'm well aware that most critics were quite comfortable giving this release a high score but I disagree completely. This horrible juxtaposition of higher than the stratosphere synth explosions and a falsetto that matches and sometimes exceeds those heights, with darker than usual lyrics that tend to the flummoxing and bewildering sits terribly with me. It's not a happy record or a sad record, there appears to be no ideal circumstance to listen to this. Do you ever feel depressed and get the urge to go out and dance? Maybe if you had the twin afflictions of a huge overdose of ecstasy and a deep depression brought on by a serious case of alcohol over-indulgence you may be tempted to throw Gossamer on, but you'd also either be dead or on a hospital bed extremely close to death, so I'm not sure that counts. The only reason it got any points was for the first 3 tracks which were quite good, but the novelty wears off so quickly that by halfway through the fourth I was forcing myself to listen.
Best Tracks: Take A Walk, I'll Be Alright, Carried Away