A band’s second album can either be the entry to a new level of success or the beginning of a descent. Coincidentally, or perhaps inevitably, these sophomore efforts are frequently surrounded by some form of grief or disaster that plagues the artist or band. Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins endured a mountain of problems while creating Siamese Dream. Weezer had the problem of trying to get away from the whole “Buddy Holly” surf-pop gig while making Pinkerton, as well as Rivers Cuomo’s depression and disillusionment with being a performer. And D’Angelo dealt with a case of writer’s block while making Voodoo. However, the second album just as often isn’t plagued with misery and frustration, but instead offers an opportunity to reach a new level of refinement. More recently, Drake showed off a new level of maturity on Take Care, set to some stunning productions, no less.
This brings us to Passion Pit. What started out as a college dorm room project out in Boston almost four years ago became a surprise hit, the band stepping up to major label Columbia after releasing debut album Manners on Frenchkiss. Admittedly, Manners had some serious hits — songs like “Sleepyhead,” “To Kingdom Come” and “Moth’s Wings” all came packed to the gills with hooks and unforgettable choruses, and inevitably ended up in a variety of television shows, movies and commercials. Yet, the interesting flipside of that is the level of distaste an almost equal number of listeners expressed, largely due to Michael Angelakos’ high-pitched voice, drowned in synths and other electronic effects. I, too, required a little time to let Passion Pit’s music grow on me, but their melodies and songwriting, ultimately, were pretty hard to deny.
Passion Pit’s second album, Gossamer, feels like familiar territory, but this time Angelakos & Co. have taken a big step forward in showcasing a more complex album wrought from misery, pain and struggle. These songs certainly sound upbeat, but don’t be fooled — this is dark and anguished material. “I’ll Be Alright” begins with lyrics like “Can you remember having any fun?/I drink a gin and take a couple of my pills.. And “Cry Like A Ghost” echoes a similar sentiment, as Angelakos sings, “You never once controlled me/What all the others told me/But if I kept on going I’d be dead.” While the songs themselves are layered in vibrant electronic layers of drums, synthesizers and effects, deep down they have an extremely vulnerable core. This is an album about falling apart, but at the same time, it’s just as much about rising from the ashes and dealing with one’s own demons.
In a recent, brilliant feature on Pitchfork, Angelakos and his band discussed how Gossamer came to be and the impediments that surrounded the production of the album, most of which revolved around his lifestyle of excessive drinking and diagnosis with bipolar disorder. And yet just as much frustration seemed to come from Passion Pit’s detractors and struggling with the ability take a new direction with their sound. Though Angelakos’ pain is very real, any anxiety about where to go next has only resulted in something stronger in Gossamer. These songs are beautifully constructed and accessible on the surface, but beneath reveal something more genuine, honest and affecting.
Stream: Passion Pit – “I’ll Be Alright”