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Passion Pit has such a distinctive sound—whether you’re a fan or not, you can usually tell a Passion Pit song when you hear one. It’s a definite strength and yet sometimes it seems Michael Angelakos is struggling to break his own mould. Passion Pit has undoubtedly nailed the art of synthpop and emotional lyrics, but for the most part, Angelakos’ latest release sounds much the same as anything he’s done before.
Kindred is Passion Pit’s third LP, following Manners in 2009 and Gossamer in 2012. Gossamer was a heavy album that dealt with suicide, drug abuse, domestic violence and a myriad of other dark subjects. In the press cycle surrounding its release, Angelakos revealed his struggles with bipolar disorder as being a pivotal part of the record. Angelakos didn’t hold back in his public examination of his own mental health—he alludes to his own suicide attempt in the track “Where We Belong”. Gossamer was an incredibly raw and emotional record, particularly for a sophomore effort. The emotional potency of Gossamer was always going to be a hard one to follow, and unfortunately Kindred doesn’t pull it off quite as well as I’d hoped.
Kindred does, however, make it clear that Angelakos is now doing much better. The album opens with the explosive and upbeat “Lifted Up (1985)”. It’s the kind of track that Passion Pit does best, and it functions incredibly well as an opening track. It feels similar to songs like “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets” from Manners. The track is actually an ode to Angelakos’ wife, telling a story where she descends from heaven and he prevents her from returning: “1985 was a good year / The sky broke apart and you appeared / Dropped from the heavens, they call me a dreamer / I won’t lie, I knew you would belong here / Lifted off the ground / I took your hands and pulled you down.” There’s such an energetic earnestness to the track, it left me with high expectations for the rest of the album and I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed.
Religious references are prominent on Kindred. Angelakos makes heavy use of symbolism in his lyrics and employs several dichotomies, like light versus darkness. The majority of the album also serves as a love letter to his wife. “Whole Life Story” is one highlight from the album, where Angelakos sings a heartfelt apology to his wife with lyrics like “How could you forgive me when / Our life’s some story out for them to buy?” and “I’m sorry darling.” Another highlight is “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”. The track has a similar energy to “Carried Away” from Gossamer. “Looks Like Rain” strips the usual Passion Pit track back a little bit, with a slower melody and less synth. It’s lyrically interesting too, with the chorus “And I said, ‘Hey, looks like rain’ / Then you lifted your hands and prayed / ‘Go away, you can come back some other day’ / But they stayed and you soaked under all of the grey / And the rain washed all our cries and pleas away.”
The first half of the album is great, but the closing tracks really let the rest down. “My Brother Taught Me How To Swim” initially sounds like something by Owl City. It redeems itself somewhat, but it’s definitely not one of the better tracks on Kindred. It’s also a big one in terms of religious imagery, following a similar kind of saviour/baptism theme to some of the earlier songs on the album. The final track “Ten Feet Tall (II)” is similarly disappointing—it doesn’t work quite as well as its predecessor “Ten Feet Tall (I)” and it sees Angelakos’ trademark falsetto being masked by garbled autotune for the first time on the album.
Passion Pit has always made pop music that somehow demands your full attention and Kindred is no exception. The album is somewhat similar in sound to both Manners and Gossamer, and whilst lacking in some aspects, it certainly shows Angelakos’ progress lyrically. As always, Passion Pit is fun to listen to—it’s a great album on face value, but if you immerse yourself a little deeper it’s a really interesting and thought provoking record too. Ultimately, Kindred isn’t the huge success it could have been, but it’s not wholly a disappointment either.