Passion Pit’s last record Gossamer was severely underrated. Many listeners who skated over it purely took it for its euphoric instrumentals, neglecting to see the heartbreaking record that lay beneath its sheen. That’s no fault of the listener. Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos is an expert at making pain sound joyful but he revealed through a number of interviews around the release of the record his battle with mental health and substance abuse. Knowing that, Gossamer transformed into a heart-wrenching record that felt lonely. It was melodic and beautiful but dressed like a clown - hiding the inner-feelings to make people smile.
Passion Pit’s third record Kindred takes much the same formula as Gossamer. It’s big sounding, elated and packs a punch instrumentally. At its core it’s a pop record but it dabbles in electronica and elements of RnB. If anything, Kindred goes bigger than Gossamer. It’s more expansive and Angelakos seems to abandon all restraint.
There’s one major difference between the two records though and that’s that Angelakos trades I for we. Gossamer dealt a lot with his own emotions, convincing himself that he’s ok while detailing notions of loneliness. On Kindred for the most part he’s dealing with we - working on relationships and figuring out how he can use them to make himself better.
Angelakos interestingly told Pitchfork before the release of this record that Manners had no answers, Gossamer was apologetic and Kindred is him trying to make things better. Straight off the bat you can feel that on the record. He’s more conscious of the relationships around him and mostly groups himself as a we. On Lifted Up (1985) he sings “Lift us back to the sky and the world above” while on Until We Can’t (Let’s Go) he sings “How much can we take before we both break down.” On the latter he recognises the problems and then breaks out into a massive chorus that basically says “fuck it, let’s not wallow, let’s figure out how to make this better.” That motto defines Kindred.
Unlike Gossamer, it doesn’t hit you in the heart but it has this general notion of trying to make things better and that in itself is just as satisfying to listen to. Passion Pit’s music has often been criticised for being too euphoric which is interesting given the lyrical matter. Kindred sounds just as euphoric as the other records but the lyrics seem to justify the feeling more. While he certainly doesn’t have it all worked out there’s an underlying feeling that things are getting better.
The most successful moments on Kindred are the ones where he scales everything right back. Looks Like Rain is perhaps the most minimal we’ve ever heard the band with the instrumental leaving plenty of space to really hear Angelakos’ voice. Dancing On The Grave is one of the more crystalline moments on the record with the majority of the song used to create a sun-drenched atmosphere. Like most of the record, the lyrics deal with this feeling of needing to get away - “Oh I can’t stay here.”
In saying that, there’s also a justified expectation that when you hear a Passion Pit album you’re going to get a huge, synth-driven chorus. And we get that in abundance here. Opener Lifted Up (1985) is in contention for the biggest Passion Pit chorus yet while My Brother Taught Me To Swim is lip-lickingly good pop.
The bigger the songs get though the more they tend to feel overcrowded. Overcrowded to the point that if you’re not listening to them in solitary on headphones it can all blend into one rushing force of synths. Until We Can’t (Let’s Go) is guilty of that despite the fact that its melody is pure pop gold. As he’s proven recently with Ryn Weaver, Angelakos is a formidable pop writer.
What distinguishes Angelakos as a writer is that he’s able to create two feelings simultaneously, one through the lyrics and one through the instrumental. To fully appreciate a Passion Pit record you have to peel back the layers. The issue is that many don’t have the time nor patience to do that. On face value Kindred is a big sounding, expansive pop record. Dig a bit deeper and it’s a work of rich melody with elements of experimentation and intricate lyrics well-worth exploring. That’s when it really feels worthwhile.
If we can take anything from Kindred it’s that things may not be ok but they can be. And that’s a surprisingly elating feeling.