Passion Pit began with lead singer Michael Angelakos as a sophomore at Emerson College, recording a song to give to his girlfriend as a Valentine’s Day gift. Fast forward eight years and two incredibly successful studio albums, and Passion Pit is well known in indie and alternative circles for innovative and courageous electronic tracks.
Indie-electronic music has entered into prominence in the pop mainstream in recent years. Zedd, Odesza, Diplo, Kygo and Skrillex have all taken the alternative electronic sound and brought it to mainstream listeners. Even Taylor Swift’s “1989,” which was produced by Jack Antonoff, features synth-heavy electronic moments that draw from the same tradition Passion Pit began in 2008 with “Sleepyhead.” “Kindred,” the third full-length album from Passion Pit, has some of the innovative moments listeners have come to expect from Angelakos’ work, but lacks the intensity or creative range of his previous albums.
“Whole Life Story” is a satisfying moment on the album, and could easily have been released as a single beforehand. It has a consistent, catchy, swinging beat that vaguely recalls “Carried Away” from Gossamer, Passion Pit’s previous album. But what it makes it easy to like also makes it boring. Some of Passion Pit’s most creative work has been its most divisive. “Sleepyhead,” one of Passion Pit’s most popular songs is also high pitched and features long electronic sections that not everyone likes. The same goes for “The Reeling” and “Hideaway” — Angelakos’ most innovative work pushes the boundaries of what’s nice to listen to, but it’s always new and creative. “Whole Life Story,” on the other hand, starts feeling lethargic by the second minute. It might play nicely with others on a mixtape, but it doesn’t push artistic boundaries.
The same is true of the low-key jam, “Where the Sky Hangs.” Its bridge, “don’t make me go, go”, sounds a lot like the previous track’s “oh don’t you let it go.” If Angelakos is going to include so few lyrics in an album, let alone in two consecutive but disconnected tracks, it might be worth making them count. The casual sway to “Where the Sky Hangs” make it a standout track as far as musicality goes. This is in contrast to, say, “Dancing on the Grave,” which is just short of a note for note re-release of “Love is Greed,” from Gossamer.
The one part of Passion Pit’s work that may never disappoint is the imagery. Angelakos does a beautiful job of painting relationships, such as the ethereal, joyous portrait of exuberant young love in “Lifted Up (1985),” his ode to his wife. Moments of nature and spirituality, though, steal the show on “Kindred.” “Looks Like Rain,” in particular, is a quiet snowglobe of divine ideas, lyrically anchored by references to nature: “the wind begins caressing/ all the branches to a sway/ the air shattered the glass/ it felt like crystals on your face/ I took you in my arms/ I could hear you saying grace.”
One of the most interesting tracks on the album is doomed to mediocrity because it doesn’t seem to have any place being on “Kindred” in the first place. “Where the Sky Hangs,” “Looks Like Rain” and “My Brother Taught Me How to Swim” all hang together in a mass of childhood memories and evocative, spiritual musings. “Lifted Up (1985),” “Five Foot Ten (I)” and “Ten Feet Tall (II)” are all romantic narratives, built off moments of quiet and exuberant, joyous choruses. But “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)” could be the perfect Millennial anthem if it were remixed for radio play: “let’s go out and find ourselves a home” shouted over loud, club-style beats. The quiet whispers and aggressive, explosive electronic choruses put the listener in a club, shouting over the music, trying to reconcile their restlessness (and recklessness) with a fundamental desire for love and sincere connection. Although the mix as it is on Kindred is too intense for casual listening, “Until We Can’t” had the potential to have been a thematic high point for another album.
“Until We Can’t” is also the closest in writing to the more elaborate, emotionally raw lyrics on “Gossamer.” “Gossamer” featured candid discussions of Angelakos’ family, mental health and relationships, paired with creative arrangements and unapologetically innovative styling. The brevity in “Kindred,” when it feels deliberate, can be beautiful. But, at times, it’s hard to reconcile the poignant and evocative moments in Kindred with the brevity of the lyrics, which at times seem curt rather than concise. “Looks Like Rain,” which is beautiful, quiet and childlike, may have sacrificed substance for simplicity.
Adding another shade of emotional depth or sincerity — another verse, a more exploratory moment — would have elevated the song to the level of creativity that listeners might have expected from a post-“Gossamer” record. The same goes for “Five Foot Ten (I)” and “Ten Feet Tall (II):” what could have been an exciting concept project and way of bookending the album ends up falling flat with too little substance.
“Kindred” is Passion Pit’s shortest album — ten songs, with a second disc of unremarkable remixes. The album isn’t necessarily disappointing, but, it’s hard to look at it and not see the opportunities missed. Although Angelakos’ reflections on spirituality and childhood are touching, beautiful and evocative, “Kindred” does not push the same musical or lyrical boundaries that Passion Pit’s previous work has. Perhaps fatigued from being a main engine in the indie-electronic genre for so long, Passion Pit appears to lack creative energy.
Photo Courtesy of Passion Pit