I still remember the first time I heard Passion Pit. It was New Year’s Eve 2009; I was 18, a senior in high school. The party that night was at an empty Cape Cod beach house, about a two-hour drive from the outskirts of Boston. Loaded into a beat-up Ford Explorer, my friends and I passed around cartons of steaming Chinese food as we drove through the night. At some point during the drive, someone plugged in an iPod playing Passion Pit’s 2009 album, Manners — their first EP being Chunk of Change..
Helium falsetto, soothing synths and pounding beats — it was like nothing I had ever heard.
That night, our last New Year’s as high schoolers, Passion Pit played as we celebrated around cheap champagne and together watched the ball drop one last time. Through the flurries of a cold New England night, we all laughed and joked, but we were also afraid. Afraid that, truthfully, we would probably never be this close again.
Three years later, as I pressed play on Passion Pit’s sophomore album, Gossamer, the feelings of that night came rushing back. But time’s a funny thing. I’ve changed as a person, and Passion Pit has certainly changed as a group.
Sure, the heart of the group remains a combination of lead vocalist Michael Angelakos and producer Chris Zanes. Gossamer probably even sounds similar to Manners to the casual listener. Yet deep below the happy overtones, there is pain.
Following the success of Manners, the small band from Boston exploded in popularity. Moving up in the world from a Valentine’s Day gift of a demo CD to sold-out shows and features in FIFA and Hollywood films, they had it made. The band was at a new high, but Angelakos was at a new low. Drinking heavily and self-medicating with antidepressants, he thought constantly about killing himself.
After five weeks in a Houston mental health clinic, he was released. He was now open about the bipolar disorder that had hampered him his whole life, but besides that, not much had changed. For the next year and a half, he lived a boom-and-bust lifestyle of sobriety and relapse. It wasn’t until he met fiance Kristy Mucci that things began to settle down. On the topic of Mucci, Angelakos isn’t shy: “She’s the one who’s saved my life so many times,” Angelakos said in an interview with Pitchfork Media, a Chicago-based Internet publication that focuses on independent music.
With all this hanging over the group, Gossamer was conceived. Like the thin, spider-made silk, the band was at times hanging from a thread. It’s no wonder, then, that its songs cover problems with family, depression, pills, alcohol and attempted suicide.
This is not the same Passion Pit.
The band has also made changes to its sound. On Manners, Angelakos resides exclusively in the upper register. He sings in a piercing, nearly androgynous tone that serves only to compliment the pulsing beats. On Gossamer, the melodic beats now exists to serve the voice.
And the exclusive use of those poppy synths? The band now also experiments — to great effect — with R&B on “Constant Conversations,” with gospel on “Two Veils to Hide My Face” and with accompanying female harmony from Swedish trio Erato throughout.
It feels almost indecent to tap your foot to “Cry Like A Ghost” or “Where Do We Belong” once you know that they respectively address Angelakos’ destructive bender and his attempt on his life in college. But that paradox may be just what he wants us to contemplate. Steering away from the hedonistic narcissism of Manners, Angelakos has made Gossamer to heal himself.
To most listeners, Gossamer will remain just a fun, upbeat album. But a few will catch a glimpse of its true message: Underneath the poppy synths of life, we all experience pain.
Three years have passed since I first heard Passion Pit, and they’re no longer the same. They’re no longer the drunk, pretty girl dancing carelessly at the center of the floor. They’re now the misunderstood beauty, standing quietly in the corner, sipping her drink, just wishing someone would listen to her.