Off the Airwaves with WCFM: ‘Kindred’

Passion Pit's new album 'Kindred' expresses love and gratitude for the people in the artist's life. Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.com.
Passion Pit’s new album ‘Kindred’ expresses love and gratitude for the people in the artist’s life. Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.com.

Kindred, Passion Pit

Passion Pit, the Cambridge, Mass.-based solo project of New Jersey native Michael Angelakos, has carved out a distinct position in American indie music. Between the folk revival seen in Bon Iver or Mumford & Sons and the mega-indie anthems of Fun, M83 and Imagine Dragons, Passion Pit prefers to work in energetic, melody-driven electronica. Kindred, released April 21 from Columbia Records, is a well-developed collection of catchy pop songs with a deeper meaning, even if that meaning gets a little lost along the way.

Passion Pit’s creativity stems from the songwriting and signature airy voice of founder Angelakos. After the 2008 EP Chunk of Change and 2009 follow-up Manners propelled his band to national prominence, Angelakos took his puppy-love themes to new levels in the 2012 album Gossamer. Critics praised the effort for its introspective subject matter when placed in contrast with the forward sound of the music itself. Lead single “Take A Walk,” for example, masquerades as a feel-good party song while tackling the financial hardships that Angelakos had to overcome growing up. This juxtaposition of bubbly, fluid melodies with topics of romance and insecurity has earned Passion Pit legions of new fans, including recent collaborators like French EDM savant Madeon.

Kindred bursts open with lead single “Lifted Up (1985),” a tribute to Angelakos’ wife. The track incorporates joyful whoops and glittery synths before hesitating for a half-second and culminating in a satisfying, beautiful chorus. Angelakos effusively compares his wife’s entry into his life to an angel descending from on high: “1985 was a good year / Sky broke apart and you appeared / Dropped from the heavens, they call me a dreamer.” As in Chunk of Change, which was originally written as a romantic gesture to his girlfriend, Angelakos’ first four tracks mix loving reverence with stories of rocky relationship periods. In standout “Where The Sky Hangs,” Angelakos discusses his struggles with bipolar disorder while directly speaking to his wife, who kept him grounded, and “Whole Life Story” walks the listener through the ways in which fame strains a marriage.

The whole album, in fact, reads as a kind of message of gratitude to those who held Angelakos tethered while he dealt with personal issues against the watchful eye of the public at large. “Five Foot Ten (I)” and “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)” place jittery arpeggios alongside layered vocals in a major-key outpouring of sound, while “Dancing On The Grave” remains more subdued. All three songs take on heavy subjects, such as the repression of one’s past for the preservation of current relationships, but the more spare moments prove to be more effective. The quieter moments of Kindred provide a welcome break from the more sugary fare that fills the rest of the album.

In both the celebratory and the intimate places on Kindred, Passion Pit applies vivid imagery to evoke his devotion to the spiritual and the familial. As he nears the end of the album, Passion Pit drops the energy level of Kindred again in “My Brother Taught Me How To Swim” and “Looks Like Rain.” He uses spiritual, naturalistic and nostalgic language to describe how much his family means to him: “My brother taught me how to give / He spreads his love until it stretches too thin / Oh how I want to be like him.” Even as he loses his privacy or faces financial hardships, Angelakos is active and grateful for those with whom he is closest.

Ultimately, Kindred can be a little much. There are times when it is difficult to access Passion Pit’s raw emotion given his reliance on poppy chorus lines and artificial noise. Angelakos’ voice itself, while undoubtedly his strongest expressive tool, can also get lost in so much frenetic activity. When all the sweeping liveliness of a song works cohesively, however, or when Passion Pit lets the walls down altogether, the spirit of Kindred resonates beautifully as an honest declaration of love. Kindred’s energy continues to reverberate inside listeners’ heads long after they’ve set down their headphones. It’s a good feeling, and one that Passion Pit achieves as well as anybody.