Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Passion Pit - Kindred Review

To many Passion Pit is the seeming definition of succulent Indie Pop; roaring medleys and addictive pulsations make the band easily definable. What doesn't is Michael Angelakos' often contradicting lyrics, turning his group's perennial fun-loving romps with his high-pitched falsettos into a paralyzing viewpoint of someone attacking his inner-most demons with brightly lit synths. At least that's how it used to be, as their latest, Kindred, mostly does away with internal conflicts to finally mare Angelakos' lyrics with the style, substance, and sound, parlaying around his devoted love to his wife. With the topical change comes the significant loss of mystique that surrounded each of Passion Pit's releases, especially their latest Gossamer, which defiantly owned up to personal issues of depression, alcoholism, financial concerns, Bi-polar bouts, and suicidal tendencies, masked by the most inherently likable bubblegum Pop. The two-faced difficulties of Angelakos own life, drastically shifting from euphoric highs and draining lows, were etched out in his musical style, the sound signifier the former, the lyrics the latter. As with most revealing commitments, a typical release of pent up frustration, stress, anxiety, and rage begin to subside as the largest hurdle is behind with a calm gestation period set for the future. This is Kindred, attempting to mimic the sounds of its older brother while maintaining none of its elegiac allure.

Often times in music listeners speak of a spark, a moment in time where current events, personal dilemmas, and trending sounds collide together to make a statement regarding present day humanity. 2012's Gossamer caught glimmering SynthPop at its pinnacle, with Passion Pit already nestled in their genre as numerous others attempted to take the crown. The revelation of intimate problems only latched on further due to the progressive acceptance of mental disorders in America. And yet, with any spark comes an eventual flicker, the light that shone so bright begins to wane as the moment soon comes to pass. Passion Pit's third LP remains in a SynthPop safe lane, something detrimental in 2015 as the spark of the genre begins to fade, substituting potential risks for trivial content, namely regurgitated relational tropes of commitment, love, honesty, and lingering regrets.  Just see Purity Ring's latest, Another Eternity, a mediocre mess of pure complacency profiting off SynthPop's easily digestible sound. And while Kindred doesn't sink that low it reeks of contentment, satisfied with its current place failing to take any such risk deviating from the norm. Angelakos knows that the sounds sell, the lyrics, unfortunately, take a disillusioned swan dive towards uniformity. 

If there's redeeming value in Kindred it's Passion Pit's trademarked sound further created upon, with more catchy synth structures and pounding choruses to get party's jumping in an instant. The first indicator of this is the lead single and opener 'Lifted Up (1985)' which capitalizes off a marching band bass progression and yelping background vocals to compliment Angelakos falsetto frolics. 'Where The Sky Hangs' finds influences from seering 80's Glam Pop in lucious subtleties, while tracks like 'Five Foot Ten (I)' bounce around like rabid monsters, half created from a whacked out Disney flick and K-Pop's most absurd sonic mannerisms. These defining sounds though form Passion Pit's collective whole, as nothing on Kindred deviates even slightly from their tried and tested norm, relishing in something that works rather than gambling on a chance to provide magical depth. Each track parlays around a set choice of instruments, all brightly tuned, like keyboards, rambunctious drums, and jutting synths. There's arguably no other genre, apart from Country, that reflects so strictly on its predetermined instrumentation than SynthPop, and it gets grating when heard ad nauseum. The only track that even scarcely differs is the finale 'Ten Feet Tall (II)' which emphasizes a highly auto-tuned Angelakos with an all-encompassing bass to provide a comparatively elaborate sendoff. 

Where Kindred stumbles immensely though is in its lyrics and content, as Angelakos substitutes intensely personal conversations for grand statements regarding love and relationships, all nestled together in his own. With the release of Gossamer, Passion Pit landed themselves in a untimely lose-lose situation, either recreate what topics worked or stand in line as yet another SynthPop release centered around 'complicated' relational issues. I say that with quotations because, while the topics can be deep and introspective, all of them have been beaten to death for decades. 'All I Want' comes to terms with his wife's love, being that it's all he has, while 'Until We Can't (Let's Go)' looks at human fallacies to blame problems on anything but those causing it, and 'Whole Life Story' sees his wife's growing agitation towards the spotlight. Few moments here provide a fresh viewpoint, and some are just downright botched, like 'Five Foot Ten (I)' that parades around the "I wanna be alone" trope despite rousing instrumentation providing no concrete footing, all before "with you" is added to further induce eye-rolls. Then there's Angelakos lazy lyricism that seeps in, like on 'Where The Sky Hangs,' where "it goes up, it goes down" is matched by "I was lost, now I'm found" to fight against any sort of accumulated depth.

Normally SynthPop records are looked at more candidly due to their direct relation to Pop and each genre's insistence on providing fun-loving summer jams, thus making it hard to criticize when they successfully accomplish their goals. In this sense, Kindred thrives. Sporting little variety and lusting over their characteristic structures, the album will no doubt lure in non-focused listeners for a good time under the baking sun. The problem lies on its clear step back from Gossamer, a record which featured the same instilled addiction whilst adding remarkable depth in its gloomy subjects. The songs are too similar to each other, the choruses too overpowered and overused, the chords and progressions enamored with their sonic foundations. The only thing that falls into place nicely, and improves upon by default from Gossamer, is Angelakos distinctive voice, now pieced together with the lyrics rather than an odd detractor to them. Overall though Passion Pit's latest suffers the ongoing pitfalls of SynthPop artists leaking into Pop, content with their innate infatuation with themselves, resisting any urge to expand past what ear worms already work. 

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