After Passion Pit’s debut EP, Chunk of Change (2008), the Indie dance scene gave the band from Cambridge, Massachusetts the benefit of the doubt; okay, you couldn’t really dance to it, but it sounded very sophisticated and credible, then again, what’s with the Elmo impression?
When Manners (2009) was released most DJ’s decided that Passion Pit was more Sesame Street than Caló des Moro, after all. At the same time ‘serious’ music critics all over the www praised the album and called Michael Angelakos a genius. Manners was released too late in the year to end up in any year lists, but that doesn’t explain why until this day I have been unable to meet a serious music critic or fan who actually likes Passion Pit, the only exception being the Elmo-impersonator staring back at me in bathroom mirror. Singing along to Passion Pit is restricted to the shower.
Listening to the outstanding single and opening song Take A Walk you might be tempted to believe that Gossamer is both the album that the Indie dance scene were hoping for and that the serious music critics were pretending to be reviewing in 2009. The first thing that strikes you is that Angelakos’ voice no longer sounds as if you are playing a 33 rpm album at 45 rpm. The new album is 50% Elmo-free, but the nervous hyper-energy of Manners is still very much there. The second thing you notice is that some of the freaky coziness of Manners has been replaced with something that could almost be distant reflection. Take A Walk isn’t Angelakos wooing his girlfriend by doing funny voices. It’s the song of a man who’s looking forward or backward on a life that isn’t all fun and games. If the song was exemplary for the album, you’d think that Elmo was growing up.
With its Italo-synth motif and its talk-sung verses Take a Walk reminds me of the tongue-in-cheek earnestness of early Pet Shop boys. The song is the first hint that Gossamer might be less collage and more outright retro than Manners. As it turns out half of the tracks on the new album boast an even grander Eurobeat sound than it’s opening track. Euphoric choruses, fulsome percussion and tension building middle-eights are fine add-ons to sprightly songs like I’ll be Alright and Mirrored Sea. In contrast, the forced majesty of Hide Away and It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy give me the impression that the gimmicks are needed to disguise mediocre songwriting. British Indie-electro’s Friendly Fires tried exactly the same ploy last year on their highly anticipated second album and failed. Fortunately, Passion Pit’s sophomore effort contains enough quality moments to avert the same kind of disappointment.
It might be due to my conservative nature that the clammy Manner-ish moments on Gossamer are my favorites. There’s no denying the return of Elmo on Constant Conversations, but it still might be the best and catchiest song of the album. The golden pastiche of female backing vocals, sultry Barry White instrumentation’s and a wordless ‘ooh-ooh-o-ooh-oo-oh’ chorus is where kitsch turns back into art. Carried Away is another highlight and has got summer hit written all over its back in suntan lotion. It’s hard to see it not becoming this year’s Plage when even the most inclement corners of the continent are struck by a heatwave. Two Veils To Hide My Face is thirty seconds of fine acapella that are worth mention because they illustrate that the true genius of Angelakos, if indeed it exists, doesn’t display itself very long or very often on this new album. The individual songs on Gossamer are undeniably more coherent and mature than on Manners, but paradoxically the album as a whole has turned out a bit of an adult hotchpotch.