Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos spent July 4 at home. For once, he was doing as little as possible.
"It was nice to just relax. I rarely have the luxury," he says. "And no, I didn't touch the fireworks."
That he could use a break from the pyrotechnics shouldn't come as a surprise - the man creates musical fireworks for a living. And nothing he's done to date is quite as colorful, shimmering and explosive as "Gossamer," Passion Pit's second full-length, due July 24 on Columbia. Since the band released 2009's electro-pop sensation "Manners" (292,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), the group has become one of the indie world's biggest crossover success stories, playing the Coachella festival and selling out venues across the country.
The band's steep ascent - comparable in scope and speed only to MGMT - kept the recently engaged Angelakos busy touring and promoting. When all that ended circa January 2011, he was quick to return to the studio. But the transition wasn't easy.
"Touring sucks the life out of you," he says. "Creativity is really a muscle. And I hadn't flexed that muscle in so long. I felt like I needed to work out."
The sole songwriter and studio musician of Passion Pit (the live band includes guitarist Ian Hultquist, keyboardist Zander Singh, bassist Jeff Apruzzese and drummer Nathan Donmoyer), Angelakos began assembling ideas and laying down demos.
"Passion Pit songs are like putting together a puzzle," he says. "I come up with a melody and the whole song starts to flush out in my head, by way of me walking in circles looking like a lunatic. Next thing I know, I've got this huge song in my head. The problem is conveying that [in the studio]."
For "Gossamer," Angelakos teamed with engineer Alex Aldi (the Walkmen, Les Savy Fav), who also worked on Manners, and the two holed up in a rented studio space in Brooklyn working 12-hour overnight sessions to avoid disturbing the neighbors.
The record that took shape during those sessions features lyrics darker and more cutting than those on Manners and sonics shooting in the exact opposite direction-ecstatic, strobe-light synths and glitchy pop beats. In late-summer 2011, Angelakos and Aldi set to work at Manhattan's Gigantic Studios with producer Chris Zane, who also produced "Manners." "We had somewhere between 30 and 40 synthesizers, a few electric pianos and I don't know how many pedals and processing tools," Angelakos recalls. "I wanted to try everything till it worked. It's a bit of a fetish."
Angelakos calls the resulting album "a complete product of the studio environment," and yet the music feels fresh, bright and live. "Gossamer's" lyrics, sung in melodies as sticky sweet as the glow-stick soundscapes, can come as a shock. Much like Manners, the new songs meditate on woeful self-medication ("I drink a gin and take a couple of my pills, and my parade would give you chills," Angelakos sings on the hyperactive second single, "I'll Be Alright") and astute, often depressing personal observations ("Who could love you in the way that you love you? You're alone darling," he sings on the spacey "Hideaway").
For every fan who only knows Passion Pit from a college party, there's one who has dissected Angelakos' lyrics while dancing along, making sense of his co-existing desperation and elation. The songwriter remembers watching those fans in action when the band played Coachella in 2010.
"I saw thousands of people singing the whole catalog-every single word," he says. "Any kind of commercial success is a very nice plus, but it seems so small when you play a show and realize people actually do care. It's a constant, surreal reminder that people really are invested in the music."
And the label is as well. Ian Quay, Passion Pit's product manager at Columbia Records, calls the new album "one of [the label's] most important records this year. It's a massive priority for us."
With the stomping first single, "Take a Walk," already garnering more success than anything off "Manners" (it's No. 24 on Billboard's Alternative chart), Quay hopes to retain the band's core, indie-leaning fans while courting FM radio listeners.
Passion Pit will play "Late Show With David Letterman" week of release and appear at Lollapalooza and Outside Lands later this summer. In late June, the band co-headlined the Seattle installment of vitaminwater's Uncapped concert series (held in conjunction with the Fader) with Def Jam rapper 2 Chainz.
"This is music that people like to have fun with. It's joyous, euphoric. I don't think it's limited to any one particular demographic," Quay says. "It doesn't matter if you're a hipster or a frat boy. It's music that people want to celebrate with."