Jeff Pearson, August 5, 2012
Listen: “Cry Like A Ghost”
Michael Angelakos, the front man and creative mind behind the Boston-based electro pop outfit Passion Pit, is not well. At the age of eighteen he was diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar I disorder, which means Angelakos can have four or more manic episodes a year. Since becoming a prominent figure in indie music culture, he has kept his condition under wraps, balancing the battle with the disease with the already mentally taxing career of being a touring musician. Until a recent feature article liberated him from his secret, making him an example of how it’s possible to overcome a mental debilitation and empowering sufferers all over the world, he kept his secret pretty safe—from the public, that is. Recently engaged, Angelakos has spoken on how his being bipolar has deeply affected his relationship with his fiancée and the way that his band operates—while teetering on the edge between the worlds of being a lead singer of a popular group and that of a patient in mental health institutions, many of those closest to him were left feeling helpless when it came to not only Angelakos’ well-being, but their own as well.
It seems, however, that the article printed a mere days before Passion Pit’s latest full-length offeringGossamer was released, was just a means to dull the shock of the album’s deeply troubled and personal subject matter. When compared to Passion Pit’s first full-length record, Manners, a constantly anthemic account of a 22-year old trying to find their footing in the world, Gossamer is the scribbled, manic diary of the same man, now at 26, having lost his mind in that world and trying to decide whether he truly wants to be a part of it anymore. Following up the hugely successful Manners was a source of anguish for Angelakos.With three years of touring—seeing the shows get bigger and bigger, more anxiety-filled—trying to get the follow-up out there, and seeing his disorder take a stronger hold on his mind, everything seemed to be stacking up against his succeeding in something that many people take for granted—simply living another day—let alone writing a record that would satisfy himself and his fan base.
Though the making of Gossamer was a trying process for Angelakos, the collection of songs it yielded sounds like it was anything but. While everything on Manners did seem to come so naturally, each melody carrying with it a massive hook-worthy moment, Angelakos proves his ability to write a pop song has not diminished in the slightest across the dynamic, more subtleGossamer. There are elements of the Passion Pit we have come to know—the anthems are more sparsely populated across the span of the record, but songs like the lead single “Take A Walk” and “Carried Away” bring thumping rhythms and arena-ready choruses that are sure to work their swelled crowds into a frenzy. The main difference between the records is that with Manners the focus was placed firmly in the infectious nature of the songs, whereas on Gossamer, Angelakos challenges the listener to face his demons along with him, penning thought-provoking and affecting songs still firmly rooted in the realm of pop music. The focal point of Gossamer is Angelakos’ struggle, the life that swirls around his bleary eyes.
“Take A Walk” opens the record with electro bombast; Angelakos navigates huge, catchy synth lines with a narrative about a immigrant making a name for himself in America, building a fortune and seeing it, along with his family’s happiness and comfort, fall away to nothing. Though the song is not autobiographical, it’s a story that seems oddly reflective; Angelakos understands that though this character has built an empire of wealth, nothing is permanent, most of all happiness. Despite the somber tone of the lyrics, the song relentlessly bounces and drives forward; the juxtaposition of dancehall synthesizers chirping atop the booming, bass-heavy beat and the heartbreaking lyrics set the tone for the major theme of the record—the fact that hope in the face of tumultuous times can keep the darkest world lit. Angelakos understands that as long as hope survives, so, too, can he. On the jittery, sample-driven “I’ll Be Alright,” Angelakos exhibits this level of understanding. He accepts the fact that his mental stability has hurt the one he loves, and showing faith in himself to heal, saying, “Well I’ve made so many messes / And this love has grown so restless / Your whole life has been nothing but this / I won’t let you go loveless / I’ll be alright.”
“I’ll Be Alright” is only one of the few songs written directly about Angelakos’ relationship with his fiancée. “Constant Conversations” is a slow-dripping, R&B-laced ballad chronicling his slipping further into his unstable condition, while clinging to his support system in his lover. In the case of this song, his clinging is literal; as he slips through mental health facilities and drunken despair, holding on to the one person who can likely save him from himself, he knows he could be on the verge of losing her. A soulful, pitch-shifted vocal is sampled throughout the song, repeating the phrase, “That you’ll never leave,” seemingly missing the first two words—“Promise me.” The desperation on “Constant Coversations” is omni-present, and the listener can’t help but feel for all parties involved. The weight of the relationship between Angelakos and his fiancée is devastatingly apparent as he sings, “Now you’re standing in the kitchen and you’re pouring out my drink / Well there’s a very obvious difference, and it’s that one of us can think / If there’s a bump in the road, yeah you’d fix it, but for me I’d just run off the road / But tonight you’ve got me cornered, and I haven’t got a place to go.” Very rarely is such an honest glimpse into a songwriter’s life granted the listener; with this level of transparency, Angelakos allows us to stand in his apartment and watch a deeply troubling scene in his life. We can practically taste the dinner that is growing cold on the table, smell the candles burning throughout the room as the couple attempts to tackle this problem.
Hope manifests itself in the people around us who matter most, and at many times throughout Gossamer, Angelakos makes it apparent that love is the source of his hope for survival. Whereas “Constant Conversations” is seemingly the low point of the couple’s struggle together, “On My Way” is a break in the clouds for Angelakos, a beacon of light. An uplifting and beautiful proclamation of love, “On My Way” is Gossamer’s most hopeful and touching moment. The bass simultaneously explodes, a burst of thunder sprinkling glittery synthesizers over the top of a message of faith, as Angelakos sings, “We’re both so broken, and all I’m hoping / Is that we’ll stumble upon our love again / Just believe in me Kristina / All these demons, I can beat them.” The concept of love as a means for survival is one that is magnified in songs such as “On My Way” and “Where We Belong,” the album closer. As the final moments are upon the listener, overwhelming drums and spiraling synthesizers represent the claustrophobic and all-encompassing nature of Angelakos’ problems. He leaves the listener with a final thought of “All I ever wanted was to make you happy and proud,” a tragic plea, seemingly screamed through a veil of optimism. He is leaving everything on the record, saying that while he might not be perfect, he has the best of intentions.
Unfortunately for Angelakos, not everyone in his life has his best intentions at heart. As have many touring musicians with substance abuse problems or mental illnesses before him, he seems to have had his fair share of people who are looking to party with him, his livelihood simply collateral damage for their poor motives. He immortalizes one of those people who he mistakenly took for a friend on “Cry Like A Ghost,” belting out the chorus of “Sylvia, right back where you came from, you’re a pendulum / Heartbroken and numb / Sylvia, no one’s going to tell you when enough’s enough / Enough is enough.”Much is the case on Gossamer, the song’s dark lyrical tones play foil to the bouncy beat beneath. “Cry Like A Ghost” plays like a disjointed hip-hop burner; rattling bass propels the song to its instantly-gratifying hook.
When looked at as a whole, Gossamer is a triumph of will. Pop music has rarely felt so brutally honest, with Angelakos using his position to reach a multitude of ears with a sentiment meant perhaps only for one pair. By giving away his darkest secrets and coating them with an irresistibly infectious sheen, Gossamer is his rallying cry to bring together thousands of voices to join his struggle with him, sing the demons from all of their lives. That is what makes Gossamer so special. Glistening production and song craft allow the listener to not lament these troubled times, but to dance them away, and rejoice over the fact that there is always hope.