Review: Passion Pit — Kindred

Passion Pit is a group that excels in being maximalist, and their third album, Kindred, does not stray far from their old synth-filled stomping grounds. Bursts of shimmering sound hit you from the first track and continue their attack through the first half of this record. But there is a marked change in Passion Pit; The band’s architect and sole official member Michael Angelakos proves on this record that there is more to the project than dancefloor anthems; Kindred, at its heart, is an album about growing up. “Lifted Up (1985)” takes us through the sporadic workings of early youth, “All I Want” addresses a pained romance, and “Ten Feet Tall (II)” is a cocktail of fear, anticipation, and the churning feeling of leaving your whole world behind.

The record isn’t shy in its influences. Phoenix and Daft Punk are due credit here, and some of the sing-song folk elements on this record sound like Mumford and Sons dipped in electronica. Some songs are more coherent than others. Some are obvious fillers the album’s plot, but ultimately, Angelkos proves that he still knows how to craft the dancefloor anthems that made him famous, and beyond that, he knows how to create songs that are much, much more than that.    

Lifted Up (1985):

The record opens to a volcanic rise of synthesizers, melodies, and yelps. Yes, yelps. It plateaus for an instant, only to combust into a powerhouse chorus that radiates with the kind of goofy, sporadic childhood energy that this track is a testament to. That being said, the track risks falling into the bubble of bubbly, catchy synth-pop that’s flooded the market in recent years, were it not for its subtle themes of depression and regret. Angelakos makes “I fight so hard, and come back beaten” sound more like a declaration of war than a white flag, but it’s hard to ignore just how scattered this track is.

Whole Life Story:

Crackling chords bring this track to life alongside a hurried drum pattern that treads the fine line between fast-paced and frantic. Its sing-song chorus of “Don’t you let her go” makes this song sound like electronic music’s answer to Mumford and Sons, but the robot-rock chorus is the saving grace of the track, turning what would otherwise be a clumsy refrain into a tender love song.

Where the Sky Hangs:

The influence from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is undeniable on this groovy, disco-influenced slow jam. Paired with a honey-glazed set of synths, Angelako’s silver-tongued melody sounds like something from Julian Casablanca’s arsenal. The influences of this track are clear, but it’s a masterful boogie, crisper and cleaner than its predecessors. An effortlessly captivating song.

All I Want:

“When we wake up/you engulf me in your love” sums up this alien, whirring ballad. You can practically hear Angelako’s teenaged stomach jump into his throat as he confesses his feelings to a newfound love. Like so much of Passion Pit’s work, it sounds like the quintessence of joy, and unlike so much of it, there’s no hidden subplot of depression or deceit; the song comes to a close with the quietest and most peaceful moment on the record so far.

Five Foot Ten (I):

The glitch-robot intro and the heartbeat melody on this two-step techno jam is straight out of Passion Pit’s classic playbook, and its one of the first times where influences from their first albums Manners and Gossamer are truly audible. Subject matter takes a turn here, too, as a happy romance dissolves into a fervent plea to be alone, painted and furnished with the guise of a synthesizer’s smile. This is a turning point in the record, and what follows is distinctly lower in emotion and energy.

Dancing on the Graves:

As compared to its 5 sugar-coated predecessors, “Dancing on the Grave” comes across as a sparse, echoing refrain. There’s still the tinkling of a synth in the background, reminding you that yes, this is a Passion Pit record, but the track overall brings up an image of a night out gone wrong. The songs chorus, an echo of “I can’t stay here” brings to mind the reality of a teenager confronted with leaving everything they’ve ever known behind. Angelakos seems to be searching the stars for answers as he aimlessly wanders home. Sadly, the track is too slow compared to the chaos around it to succeed in its message.

Until We Can’t (Let’s Go):

After that scarity, it’s business as usual; this stomping chorus is among the catchiest on the record, breaking the maudlin regret of “Dancing on the Grave” with a toughened, determined gaze to the future. Gone is the frantic energy from the first half of the record; this is a more mature Passion Pit, reasonable in their excess and defined in their joy.

Looks like Rain:

“Until We Can’t” flattens into a soft, soulful reflection on the passing of seasons, and of time. The glittery sounds so typical of this band, for a record at least, are locked in the cabinet, only leaking through in the form of a bouncing melody. The slowest Passion Pit song you are ever likely to hear, and unlike “Dancing on the Graves,” this song has enough haunting beauty in its refrain to give it weight.

My Brother Taught Me How to Swim:

This tribute to childhood combines an alien rhythm with the best songwriting on the record; “My brother taught me how to give/he spends his love until it stretches too thin” is easily one of the most poignant lyrics on the record, and this tale of a role model who shares his imperfections—being free with his love—with a little brother who was doomed to follow suit. It would be heartbreaking if you weren’t dancing to it.

Ten Feet Tall (II):

Remember when those synths were missing back in “Looks Like Rain” and “Dancing on the Graves?” They took a wrong turn and wound up joining the one’s on this track. The record’s final track opens with a thunderous roar of electric noise and distorted vocals that are beyond comprehension. Passion Pit puts the cherry on their most emotional record to date with a song that is more feeling than it is lyric, more raw than it is processed or produced. As the final roar of “It’s all I’ve ever known” fades to oblivion, you’re left wondering what to do with all the silence.

Favorite Tracks: Where the Sky Hangs, My Brother Taught Me How to Swim, Five Feet Tall (I)

Least Favorite Tracks: Dancing on the Graves, Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)

Overall: Kindred is the most ambitious Passion Pit project to date in its scope, but doesn’t have the diversity of Manners or the cleanness of Gossamer. 7 synthesizers out of 10.

Kindred will be released April 21st, 2015.

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