While my tastes in music have always been pretty broad, in recent years, my interests have shifted. My recoil from most pop and dance/electronic/urban music that began in my mid-teens, wherein my love affair for alternative and folk-rock began, has receded. I’m pretty sure that both my current mindset and bands like Metric are behind the shift. Whatever the case may be, I’ve been having fun indulging in genres that are fresh and new to my ears.
While Passion Pit has been around for five years, I only recently stumbled onto the brainchild of Michael Angelakos, thanks in part to NXNE. One of the interactive panels featured a discussion of the future of the music video, with the technology employed by the band in “Take A Walk” being one case study. While yes, the technology was cool, I was far more intrigued by the music. I made it a point to grab Gossamer and check the band out.
Gossamer is their second album and while its predecessor Manners was perhaps an existential crisis in a poppy bottle, Gossamer delves into darker territory. For frontman and songwriter Michael Angelakos, the album became an exorcism of sorts for his personal struggles and experiences with mood disorder, suicide and substance abuse, among other themes. As someone who appreciates artists with confessional music and darkness within light, I admire Angelakos for not only writing of these issues, but publicly speaking of them. It’s not an easy thing to do, particularly in the unforgiving lens of celebrity.
Without further introduction, let’s dig into Gossamer and let the music speak for itself.
Take A Walk: Album opener and lead single “Take A Walk” is deceptively cheery, with its synth-bouncy melody and 50s-esque chorus. I’ve been spinning this tune endlessly this summer. It feels strangely summery and light, although the lyrics tell the tale of a man struggling to survive in the current economy. The American Dream is destroyed, line by line, with a final lament of “I’m just too much a coward to admit when I’m in need.” Herein lies the parallel that connects the entire album.
I’ll Be Alright: If there was ever a track that captured the sense of disorienting racing thoughts of a manic episode, this is it. The breakneck speed of the intro and melodic breaks is almost too upsetting to hear for someone who’s lived through it. Lyrically, we delve into the strain and often devastating toll mental illness can take upon a relationship, that sense of “You can go, I understand” coupled with the desperate need of that same person. “I’ll be alright.” Heavy words within this context.
Carried Away: There’s a delicious “twist on the 80s” sound to this track, one that’s certainly danceable. Angelakos has a gift for creating a feeling of movement befitting each track in the instrumental half of the composition. One does feel as if she’s being carried away – dizzy, spinning, perhaps rolling down a grassy hill. Lyrically, this one’s such a reminder of pretentious people I’ve had to tolerate in the past, those who turn everything into a soap box for their one talking point.
Constant Conversations: I can’t explain why, but the soft sway of this one reminds me of this old tune MC Hammer covered waaaaay back in the day, “Have You Seen Her” by The Chi-Lites. There’s an old school soul undercurrent, which fits the pessimistic and regretful narrative of someone broken down and cognizant that this is neither the first nor the last time he will be in this precise position. A jigsaw puzzle of metaphor and searing truth.
Mirrored Sea: Again, a feeling is evoked of motion: in this case, a whirlpool, or a raging storm over the sea. Have you ever had the sense that your identity has become synonymous with a single aspect of your personality or self? That everyone expects and waits for “(adjective) You”? That’s what I get from this one, and sadly, I do know that feeling – self-inflicted and projected by others.
Cry Like A Ghost: Elements of the early 90s urban scene provide an undercurrent that makes an 80s baby feel right at home. Lyrically, this song just cuts like a knife. It’s a heartbreaker once you slip past the vocal layers and bass. A conversation plays out with a mystery “Sylvia” and one could almost evoke Sylvia Plath, listening to a kindred spirit. There is such a sense of being lost within one’s own heart and mind here. A standout track. “See what I’ve done now/I don’t understand/She says I screamed and then I raised my hand/But I never meant to/Wasn’t even there/I never meant to/I wouldn’t dare.”
On My Way: Directly addressing Angelakos’ fiance, Kristy, “On My Way” is a love letter set to hopeful song. A promise in a brighter tomorrow, one where demons are defeated and love overcomes darkness. It’s going on the playlist for my own wedding. I, too, have a Kristina. A welcome contrast from the melancholy thread binding the last few tracks.
Hideaway: Bright and sparkling, sunlight trickling through closed blinds. A sanctuary of soul-searching. That’s the sort of hideaway I envision. My hideaway is an inlet, a little corner of a lake just beyond the veil of a marsh. This song evokes that place. Take that for what you will; this album is more of an experience than a mere collection of tracks. “What you mean to say isn’t always worth saying…Hideaway, where they’ll never say you cannot stay…”
Two Veils To Hide My Face: A brief sort of interlude, featuring delicate vocals befitting a church service, lifting in a non-prayer for mercy and to be lifted within the heart.
Love Is Greed: Many artists have offered lyrics that peer into the dark side of an emotion that is packaged as purely beautiful and positive. This is the Passion Pit take on love’s pitfalls and failings, its paradoxical nature. “If we really love ourselves, how do you love somebody else?” Again, there’s the sharp relief of a seemingly cheery song with darkness nestled within, almost a challenge to pay attention, to look beneath the surface.
It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy: There’s a mesmerizing puzzle at work within this track, accented by the recurring “chipmunk vocals” found throughout the album. I feel like there’s several trains of thought going on within one track: I can envision parts of this as a condemnation of the mental health system, while others seem to chide fairweather friends oblivious to the truth beneath the false laughter of mania. Either way, the track’s enthralling and reminds me of M83.
Where We Belong: In a vibrant sonic kaleidoscope, the final track of the album details a suicide attempt and the conflicting emotions that drive one to that choice. I really am awestruck that Angelakos has written this and made it public, if only because it unabashedly confronts the common misconception that suicidal individuals are cowards for not living, that there’s a selfishness to the act. Anyone who has ever stood at that precipice knows that it is a very different beast. There’s almost a feel of an erratic heartbeat behind this track, which seems perfectly fitting as it crescendos to a tentative hope. “All the things you can’t control should never destroy your love or hopes… All I’ve ever wanted was to be happy and make you proud.”
Final Comments: Gossamer is defined as “a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders, especially seen in autumn”. I state this definition to point out the fact that nothing about Gossamer is done without intent. The title itself conveys the person who is barely holding on, someone who very superficially appears airy and light, but is so blatantly anything but that one must be oblivious to not perceive the truth.
Gossamer is not light listening. It is an album of juxtapositions: mania and depression; love and greed; hope and despair. The often jarring melodic and vocal choices lend an urgency to the songs, a sense that there are cracks at the seams and at any moment, a wall could crash upon one’s head. The shifting styles and blended genres are not signs of disorganization or an unfocused songwriter; they are the essential building blocks in a work that seeks to depict a disorganized mind. It is one of the most honest and telling artistic works on the realities of bipolarity and its impact on life that I’ve come across in a long time. In fact, I’d further say that for those who experience mood disorder, this album should be approached cautiously, as it will tap into recesses of the mind that might not be as warm as the synthesizers and strings. Listening to this album leaves me a jangled mess of raw nerves, given my own struggle with bipolarity.
As someone who is not well-versed in this genre, I’m glad this was my first true foray back into it. Michael Angelakos should be commended for his candor on Gossamer and consequential willingness to unnerve listeners. You may not like where he takes you, but you will never forget the journey.
Highlights: Take A Walk; Constant Conversations; Cry Like A Ghost; It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy; Where We Belong
Lowlight: Mirrored Sea
Final Grade: A