Bloggers were early adopters, colleges made them a staple, and critics swear by them live, but you could be forgiven if the fuss over Passion Pit continues to mystify you. Not that it was any surprise when Columbia swooped them up after only an EP: the Boston quintet’s brand of loud, lush, lovesick, shout-along electropop has all the high fructose gratification of Coca Cola, and about as much nuance. It’s sensitive like emo, but danceable like Gary Glitter, which means it’s catnip for the kids and so, too, for the majors. But the same qualities that endear Passion Pit to so many make them exhausting for everyone else. Gossamer, their second release for Columbia, despite minor maturations, isn’t set to change that, which is to say it preaches to the converted: it’s as scrappy, outsize, and infectious as anyone could hope for, and as shrill and cloying as anyone could expect.
For the unconverted, the album’s best moments will probably be its most austere. Caveat emptor: there are no austere moments. There are, however, a couple tracks just lean and tight enough to merit the attention their anthemic hooks reward. The first is the third, “Carried Away,” which hits the ground running with one synth warbling, another keeping time, and one more for good measure, and builds to the most exuberant of the album’s many exuberant choruses. The second is the fourth, “Constant Conversations,” which is also the album’s third single, and, with the help of three pitch-corrected Swedes called Erato, the band’s first honest-to-goodness neo-soul slow jam. What “Conversations” and “Carried” share is not only solid songwriting, but a faith in that alone, rather than the layered bells and whistles stuffing every gap everywhere else — the aforementioned “Carried” chorus notwithstanding.
Those bells and whistles – and Rolands, Casios, guitars, effects pedals, real drums, fake drums, and Scandinavian sirens – take the fore on the album’s second half, which is comprised seamlessly of syrupy, gauzy epics. (Hence the otherwise non sequitor name?) The ambition is admirable, but save for a 30 second a capella from said sirens, not a single one jumps out of the shimmery, hyperactive mix. The album’s first half fares better by comparison, if only slightly; an orchestral swell giving way to a post-punk guitar groove opens “Take a Walk” with a nod to Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere,” for example, and “Cry Like a Ghost” is nearly another R&B bullseye, but like most of Gossamer, overproduction and one too many ooh-ooh oooohs compromise both. According to Brent DiCrescenzo’s gushy puff piece on the band, a combination of perfectionism and maximalism could be to blame for such sonic overabundance. Passion Pit’s vocalist and creative figurehead, Michael Angelakos, is notorious for subjecting each song to a dozen re-edits, and from the sound of it, subtraction is not a prominent part of his editing process.
DiCrescenzo tacitly celebrates this as the outcome of the same youthful passion that energizes the band’s music, and that, in the end, may be the strongest limit to its appeal. The same piece introduces Angelakos crying himself into the hospital after a performance in Austin. Presumably, this public volatility – articulated by and as his trademark falsetto – provides, in conjunction with biographical details including the usual breakups and substance abuse, emotional gravity and specificity to material that otherwise lacks it (save for “Take a Walk,” an account of Angelakos’ father’s days as a flower seller). Many listeners find this stuff very meaningful. But, once again, you’d be forgiven for failing to muster up much sympathy for manchild syndrome writ large, even if the gratingly catchy music behind it – bearing a Berklee pedigree, although you’d hardly know it – almost makes you want to. As objectively as possible, then, let it be said that between Gossamer and its much-beloved predecessor, Manners, Gossamer is the better record. The faithful will love it; the skeptics, not so much. All this unconverted critic can do is acknowledge both receptions, and split the difference.