In light of recent revelations, it’d be impossible to ignore lead vocalist and songwriter Michael Angelakos’s mental health when discussing the Passion Pit we’ve grown to know and love. For years the helium-pitched vocalist has—unbeknownst to anyone but his loved ones and closest friends—buried his battle with bipolar disorder deep down inside to avoid embarrassment and labeling. But recently, he dropped that guard. First, Angelakos made a public announcement on the band’s website that he had to cancel six July tour dates to “work on improving [his] mental health.” Then, only a couple of days later, he elaborated, openly and extensively shedding the details of his struggles with mania, depression, addiction and suicide in a story with Pitchfork.
If you look back at Passion Pit’s material, it seems that the clues have always been there: Underneath the synth-y, charmed melodies and his cheery voice on the band’s first major release, Manners, the lyrics show an anxious and depressed man. On that album’s opener, “Make Light,” (“So I try and I scream and I beg and I sigh/Just to prove I’m alive/And it’s all right/’Cause tonight there’s a way I’ll make light/Of my treacherous life”) and the popular “The Reeling” (“Look at me, oh look at me/Is this the way I’ll always be/Now I pray that somebody/Will swiftly come and kidnap me/Every day I lie awake/And pray to god today’s the day/Here I am oh here I am/Oh when will someone understand?”) you see the signs. But with no context of his issues, they slipped to the back burner, considered at most just the words of another brooding artist. Now when you listen to those shimmering, bubbly textures and ever-so-inviting vocals, you notice Angelakos’s demons, his cries for help coming out in his music.
Now it all makes sense. And on Gossamer, things get darker and even more literal. Those years of hiding it all inside proved ill for Angelakos’s health, haunting him until he finally burst open. While Manners was his way of passively addressing his problems, Gossamer is his confession, a head-on plea to rid himself of those devils that lingered under his skin throughout his adulthood. And what appears to be a step in the right direction for Angelakos is, in effect, one for Passion Pit as well. Though the band and album producer Chris Zane—dealing with its vocalist’s breakdowns and abuses—admittedly went through hell to get this record finished, the end result is an infectious pop album every bit as bright and dreamy as Manners yet far more straight-up, dark, honest and vulnerable. Gossamer is the perfect metaphor for Angelakos’s bipolarity—it is the thin veil of lightness covering the darkest point in his life.
Gossamer‘s lyrics waste no time with beating around the bush the way that Manners did. “I’ll Be Alright” addresses the frontman’s drug and alcohol abuse and describes the trouble it brings to his relationships: “Well I’ve made so many messes/And this love has grown so restless/Your whole life’s been nothing but this/I won’t let you go loveless/I’ll be all right.” A large chunk of this album was directly inspired by Angelakos’s struggle with his fiancee, Kristina Mucci. From the alcohol-induced argument in “Constant Conversations” (“I never ever want to hurt you, baby/I’m just a mess with a name and price/And now I’m drunker than before/Told me drinking doesn’t make me nice”) to the apologetic, wedding-vow-like “On My Way” (“We’re both so broken and all I’m hoping/Is that we’ll stumble upon our love again/Just believe in me, Kristina/All these demons, I can beat them”), the singer is tortured by his destructive lifestyle and how it has left his most important relationship in ruins. By revealing his innermost pains and secrets, Angelakos makes himself vulnerable, but in doing so he gives listeners genuine songs that they can respect and relate to.
Yet, within all of this shame and honesty lingers a gleaming sliver of hope. Of course, almost every song—with the exception of the enigmatic, pulsing, wild-ride track “Mirrored Sea” and the uncharacteristically slow-tempo “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy”—builds off of the combination of Passion Pit’s classic and ultra-upbeat synth-pop textures, a jovial chorus of backing vocals, squeaky, modulated voice samples a la Kanye West’s “Through The Wire” and Angelakos’s fluttering falsetto. On first listen, with little attention paid to the lyrics, this album is much more glass half-full. The silver lining thins once you listen with the knowledge of Angelakos’s issues in your head, but it’s still there, hanging on by a thread to each song—a feeling that Angelakos made his mistakes and that this is his chance to redeem himself.
The bright, could-be-’80s-pop-anthem “Carried Away” doubles as an apology for “the things that [he] said,” but that he learned and understands that “we all have problems.” On “Cry Like A Ghost” he pushes away an enabling friend, “Sylvia,” deciding that “enough is enough.” He returns to a variation of this statement—”Cowards never say ‘enough is enough’”—in the closer, “Where We Belong,” a track that, even though it dramatically recounts his attempt at suicide, is a reinforcement of love and positivity in its shimmering string arrangements and closing sentiments: “All things you can’t control/Should never destroy the love one holds/I’ve found a place where we belong.” This element of changing for the better brings a level of maturity to Passion Pit’s music that thrusts it out of the label of “band I heard on a video game” or “sounds perfect for an Apple commercial.”
Gossamer is full of glimmering dance-rock songs that jarringly disagree with the haunting images displayed by Angelakos’s words. And for the most part, each song stands alone with a strong ethos fulfilled in profound honesty and a dance-floor pop hook to back it. The album is top-heavy and trails off a bit after “Hideaway,” but those first eight or so songs—the bulk and meat of the album—could all easily be singles. And because of them Gossamer is a fantastic album, a definite improvement for Angelakos and company—more of that classic shimmering and bubbly Passion Pit sound but this time with some growth and maturity to propel it to the next level.