Listening to "Gossamer" is only getting half the story of Passion Pit's much-anticipated sophomore album. As detailed in Larry Fitzmaurice's excellent recent feature on the group for Pitchfork, Michael Angelakos, the frontman and mastermind of the Boston-born electro-pop group, has spent much of the past three years struggling in his battle with bipolar disorder, a struggle which has included multiple hospital stays, manic episodes, suicide scares and a loving fiancee who has, as he puts it, "saved my life so many times." It's also the reason Passion Pit, on the brink of its first major label success, recently decided to scrap a slew of tour dates, as Angelakos tries to get his emotions in check.
All of those emotions -- the heartache and confusion of mental illness, as well as the comfort and security of someone that understands -- are present on "Gossamer," an album that required a painstaking process to complete but sounds infinitely effortless in its pop arrangements and flicked-off soul ruminations. The songwriting of Passion Pit's 2009 debut, "Manners," has become more complex while the synths stay helium-light and the drums sizzle under the meatier elements. "Constant Conversations," for instance, weaves a hypnotic array of vocals into a slow-dance that grooves like nothing on "Manners." It is also, however, an account of the "mess" that Angelakos has become.
Bestowing an album as personal as "Gossamer" with a "good" or "bad" score is sort of besides the point; similar to emotionally raw bursts of brilliance like Joy Division's "Closer," Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" and Xiu Xiu's "Fabulous Muscles," Passion Pit's latest full-length is not Metacritic fodder as much as a therapy session for the artist that created it. Thus, it has patches of inconsistency spliced next to its most affecting moments, but its messier tendencies cannot be discounted -- this is a document of who Angelakos is in 2012, and it's a fascinating one. No one but Angelakos should be singing these songs, which is both sad because of their distressing undertones, but it is also an affirmation of the originality and power of his voice.
Which songs on "Gossamer" are the most delectable pieces of pop? Check out our track-by-track take on Passion Pit's new album.
1. Take A Walk
Passion Pit welcome back their fans with a deceptively sunny single about an immigrant struggling to cope with the U.S. economy. "Take A Walk" immediately introduces the album's juxtaposition of pop and pain.
2. I'll Be Alright
A jittery, joyous arrangement that swells at the exact moment when Angelakos is at his most vulnerable: "You should go if you want to," he croons in a damaged haze as cymbals buzz around his voice.
3. Carried Away - A sterling sonic sequel to "Little Secrets," this fizzy electronic dream lets Angelakos apologize in vague swoops as vocal harmonies turn his intimate secrets into a chiming chorus.
4. Constant Conversations
Sure, it's slightly "R&B." But "Constant Conversations" is also a carefully stitched love letter to the person holding the singer together. "Yeah I love you and I need you/But someday you're gonna need to find some other kind of place to go," Angelakos concludes, devastatingly.
5. Mirrored Sea - The drumming once again gets pushed to the forefront as the song's full effect - the anthemic lyrics, chattering electronics and curveball bridge - comes up a little short of the song's four predecessors on the album.
6. Cry Like A Ghost - An examination of out-of-body experiences, mania and grappling control of one's physicality, "Cry Like A Ghost" quickly transcends its haunting (pun intended) barrage of synths to pound down on Angelako's own haunted house of emotions.
7. On My Way - "Let's get married, I'll buy a ring and then we'll consecrate this messy love," Angelakos yelps in one of his most personal tunes to date. Here, he tries to convince his rock of a girlfriend to believe in the better qualities shining beneath "all these demons" within him. Simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.
8. Hideaway - With a feel-good verse layout and a hook designed to make the listener feel warm and fuzzy, "Hideway's" real key is the minute of distortion at its beginning, a representation of the cloudiness Angelakos may be hiding away from.
9. Two Veils To Hide My Face - A hushed, 34-second prayer that serves as the album's sole interlude. "Let the wind sing us our love songs/As we sift within your sands," the vocals gently plead.
10. Love Is Greed - As the title suggests, Angelakos pokes and prods at the notion of love as a selfless act, and argues that being alone at least prevents another from being hurt. Amazingly, he does so within a heated cocoon that swirls forward and which all listeners can access.
11. It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy - Worth noting: Angelakos commands the "chipmunk" vocals, a signature of Kanye West's early production pieces, about as well as anyone in pop. Here, they introduce a winding list of declarations about the frontman's psyche, past and potential for future happiness.
12. Where We Belong - A piece of soulful sorrow that sounds oddly akin to a Radiohead song, "Where We Belong" chronicles a suicide attempt through stuttering beats and technicolor strings. The ending, thankfully, is happy.