There was a time when pop music was the last bastion of the reserved. Indie rock is a confessional, heart-on-sleeve genre, but until the likes of James Murphy came along, it wasn’t really that common to dance yourself sane. When LCD Soundsystem departed, to me, it felt like a piece of that trend died a little bit.
Michael Angelakos isn’t your typical frontman, though on the surface his band, Passion Pit, are little more than solid pop. And you would be forgiven for thinking that, if you didn’t dig into the lyrics. This wasn’t as apparent on the band’s debut, the light and fluffy Manners, but on their newest, Gossamer, it becomes incredibly difficult to ignore. Angelakos has become a bit more open about his struggles with mental health, a factor that sheds a new light on his music, and the fuel that propels his music. “Take a Walk” seems, at first, to be the perfect song for the radio and Taco Bell commercials. But its lyrics paint a completely different picture: “I’m just too much a coward to admit when I’m in need,” he shouts near the end of the opening track, sounding almost on the verge of tears. The song is an exuberant mass of immense joy, but its theme of a man learning how not to make it in America makes me wonder if the ad execs, and all the kids dancing to it at their shows, know just how from it is. It’s almost an anthem for the American recession: “We have taxes, we have bills / we have a lifestyle to front.”
Surprisingly, failing to live a comfortable life is by no means the darkest thing on the record. There are themes of suicide (on the flawless, reserved closer “Where We Belong”: “And I’m lifted up / out of the crimson tub / the bath begins to drain / and on the floor, he prays away all my pain”), the faulty relationships we keep (“Carried Away”: “Who says we have cold hearts? / acting out our own parts), and too many references to alcoholism to even list (I can think of five off the top of my head. It’s hard not to get sucked into them, and see a bit of yourself in his confessions. “We all have problems,” he sings during the bridge of “Carried Away,” and for a moment, it almost feels like he’s downplaying what he’s doing. There are times where it could be easy to call Angelakos out for being whiny, but like the aforementioned James Murphy, he executes these lyrics with a therapeutic grace. These songs are still by the same band, so they are still singalongs, but here, it means that they become a sweaty, ecstatic group therapy when transferred to a live setting. There, he gets to pour out his heart to sold-out crowds, and in them, he confides his innermost fears and worries. It makes for an incredibly fun and compelling listen, to boot. At this point, I feel like I must apologize for how much I’ve talked about the subject matter on the album.
Though it feels impossible to escape these feelings, it’s also just as easy to want to ignore it all and dance yourself silly. The rest of the band is immensely tight, swinging wildly from disco exuberance (“I’ll Be Alright”) to a lavish R&B crooner (“Constant Conversation,” a real album highlight) to balls-out rock fury (“Mirrored Sea”) without ever batting an eyelash. Even if you ignore the themes here, one can’t help but be impressed by how tight and sure of themselves this band is here, on a second outing.
Therapy rock is a tightrope act. It’s incredibly easy to come across as whiny, overeager, and more often than not self-indulgent. But when Angelakos sings “I’m so self-loathing that it’s hard for me to see / reality from what I dream, and no one believes in me,” it’s hard not to want to take away all of his pain, just like he sings about in “Where We Belong.” In that song, he also sings, solemnly, “I found a place where we belong.” I, for one, am happy that he’s found that in music. If nothing else, it makes for truly beautiful art.