Columbia Records, April 2015
Since the release of 2012’s Gossamer, Michael Angelakos (better known as the sole member of Passion Pit) has let his guard down. Previously, he had been withdrawn, enigmatic and somewhat touchy when it came to his fame. His début album Manners rocketed him to prominence and dealt with a lot of issues typical of an artist in their early twenties; identity, love and all the rest. Gossamer offered a deeper indication of the man beneath the surface, conveying concerns about providing for a family and included references to his attempted suicide. Then, just a couple of months after the release, Angelakos announced that he was cancelling a series of tour dates in order to receive treatment for bipolar disorder, a diagnosis he received at the age of 18. In a candid and vulnerable interview with Pitchfork, Angelakos outlined his long and difficult battle with the disorder. He later starred in a PSA for Bring Change 2 Mind, further highlighting the importance of talking about what we’re going through. It really made a lot of people think twice about his troubled genius, especially since many of Passion Pit’s detractors bemoan his lack of depth and claim his songs are relentlessly euphoric and one-dimensional.
Needless to say, a lot of people were eagerly awaiting Kindred for its subject matter more than the irresistible synthpop that Passion Pit never fail to deliver. The blistering lead single ‘Lifted Up (1985)’ heralded the return of Passion Pit back in February and now, as the opening track, it is no less stunning. Written about how Angelakos’ wife ‘lifted him up’ to overcome his disorder, the lyrics are a powerful depiction of how he felt until he met her,
All my life I stay here waiting
Every new year, always making me
Feel as though there’s nothing up there but
One day you came out of nowhere
I’m not entirely sure about the significance of the year 1985 but this song is one which will surely rock festivals around the world in the coming months. In my opinion, it’s one of the best songs Angelakos has produced, a good omen for the album…
Later on, ‘All I Want’ expresses concerns about losing control again, an understandably terrifying thought for Angelakos. It’s endearing and quite heartening that he seems to have finally attained everything that he will ever need but this kind of uncertainty crops up repeatedly. Likewise, in ‘Whole Life Story’, he stresses over people not knowing his true identity, just recognising what’s safe and comfortable in the person he has become. In fact, for the vast majority of Kindred, Angelakos seems preoccupied with what everyone thinks of him – it seems as if he’s the kind of guy that takes criticism to heart. This builds slowly for the first few songs and explodes firework-like in ‘Five Foot Ten (I)’ when he decides to throw it all in and run away with his wife. This is a real album highlight for me, with a sawtooth synth chorus which is an instant throwback to Passion Pit’s best tracks. It’s a true turning point for the album as well. Many of the remaining songs are about leaving a life behind and looking to the future.
‘Dancing on the Grave’ is the most obvious example of this tone, with a single sentiment resonating throughout the song: “I can’t stay here.” It’s possibly the slowest track on the album but an absolutely gorgeous one all the same. It’s one of the several feelgood, leave-it-behind anthems littered throughout but it keeps things simple while some of the other songs suffer from over-aggressive production. I was really impressed with ‘Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)’ when it came out earlier this month and it sounds even better surrounded by the context of the album. Make no mistake, this song will be absolutely huge for Passion Pit in the coming festival season. It’s an incredibly energising, life-affirming track with charms that could only be resisted by a heart of stone.
The video for ‘Lifted Up (1985)’ features Angelakos looking lost in a crowd. How apt…
The album regresses a little bit for the outro, erring on the nostalgic side with tracks like ‘My Brother Taught Me How to Swim’. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. ‘Looks Like Rain’ is takes a cue from the childhood rhyme ‘Rain, Rain Go Away’ and it sits on the borderline between cutesy and touching. Personally, I think it’s a lovely track. ‘Ten Feet Tall (II)’ seems as if there is too much going on at times but it is very reminiscent of earlier Passion Pit albums with a nice, anthemic “oh oh oh oooooooh!” thrown in for good measure. It sounds powerful, a nice way to end the album.
There is a problem with Kindred but it isn’t a big one and it is quite difficult to pinpoint. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the blistering tracks and I get the impression that I will continue to do so for a long time. Likewise, the slow songs have their charms and very noble messages. In a way, Kindred is like an indie film that you love but you can’t quite figure out why. It’s comforting, nostalgic and relatively relatable. The downside is that you can’t explain why you like it if somebody asks. Perhaps that was Angelakos’ aim; it’s less brainy than it’s predecessors but, often, music doesn’t need brains to be good. It sounds like a soundtrack to good times but it’s hard to shake the impression that he was aiming for something more. Because of this, I can’t give it a whole-hearted recommendation. If you’re a Passion Pit fan, like myself, there’s a lot here that you’ll find enjoyably familiar. Gossamer felt like a significant step forwards after Manners but Kindred kind of feels like a sideways step for one of my most admired musicians.
Angelakos’ two earlier albums sounded like the melodies were composed in a state of mania and the lyrics in a state of depression, making them deceptively deep and engaging. Now that he has defeated his demons, however, Angelakos seems conscious of finding a happy medium. ‘Happy’ is the key word here. Melodically, Kindred is as gleeful as you would expect and, overall, it feels cosy. A good deal of the songs go back to childhood notions such as breaking free from a family environment, falling in love and discovery. It’s difficult to look at that forlorn kid on the cover and not imagine a young Angelakos, dreaming of making something of himself. In all, it’s difficult to deny that he has done himself proud with Kindred.
Kindred in Three Tracks
Have you listened to Kindred? What do you think? Am I spot on or miles off? Let me know in the comments below!