has always been a poison apple — or peach, if you want to maintain “pit” congruity — for frontman
. He completely indulges his thoughts until bursts of vivid ideas spew forth, but this allows confusion and dread to rush in too. The result is glossy hyper-pop with a pervading pensiveness; it’s a delicate balance that has driven the band’s music since the beginning, often at the cost of
. The thing is, their debut LP
was so blissfully blown-out that nobody really noticed. (It also helped that many of the lyrics were indecipherable). On
July 24) Angelakos has toned down his sky-scraping yelps so that we’ll hear exactly what he is singing about, and the result is an album that manages to be simultaneously introspective and gregarious.
Gossamer is Angelakos exposed. The title itself connotes something airy and fleeting, and fittingly there’s an iridescence throughout the album, as swarms of intricate programmed chirps, keyboard plinks and heavenly oohs buzz around like fireflies. But make no mistake, thematically Gossamer is heavy and world-weary, the product of an old soul. Over the course of its 12 tracks, ruminations on drinking, abuse and suicide abound. And yet it never sounds bleak: Angelakos seems to be saying happiness is less about perfection and more about acceptance.
And that means acceptance from the listener too: By design,
Gossamer is not always euphoric (but it is always pretty). Amidst the checklist of his problems, Angelakos spouts proclamations like “I’ll be alright”, or “All these demons, I can beat ’em”, or “Don’t call me crazy / I’m happy.” But it’s not so clear whether he believes the mantras, and the looming question mark gives the songs a nervous tension, keeping the album from veering into twee territory.
That tone is set on album opener “Take A Walk” as synths tangle around a tale of love in the time of financial ruin. This fusion of otherworldly pop with of-this-world problems extends into “I’ll Be Alright”, the album’s most immediate cut, with its hyper-glitchy beats skittering toward disintegration. “I drink a gin and take a couple or more pills”, Angelakos sings before the music and mood morph into a life-affirming refrain.
Topics like drinking and arguing are unavoidable even on the unexpected slow jam “Constant Conversations” (“And now I’m drunker than before they / Told me drinking doesn’t make me nice”). Channeling
circa 2005, the R&B groove hovers on a cloud of coos and a rising “oh-oh-oh-oooh” chorus, which makes up for the occasionally clunky lyrics (e.g. “You can tell by a look / By the slightest crook in the neck / Or the blink of an eye”). Kanye
R&B isn’t the only new flavor: The bouncy “Carried Away” unveils the addition of female vocals, care of Swedish trio
. Often it’s unclear who’s singing what, because the ladies’ voices weave into the material so seamlessly, and this adds a richness to Angelakos’ sometimes thin voice. Speaking of which, he’s no longer using it as an instrument to meld with the various electronic layers. The electro flourishes now Erato buttress the vocals. But like with those big old Gothic cathedrals across Europe, even the buttresses are worthy of admiration, and it’s here where the album really shines. Every track has mesmerizing programmed elements flitting around in the background.
Likewise, nearly every song begins with a high-drama set-piece. This is best illustrated on “Cry Like A Ghost”, which starts with undulating bass, helium-warped vocal samples and drum machine claps that would all sound right at home on
‘ Grimes Visions. Second half standout “Hideaway” kicks off with ethereal static that’s so over-processed it sounds like the disc is skipping (remember that?). It’s only later in the track that it becomes clear it was a Breaking Bad-style flash forward to the chorus — a hazy, out-of-context peek at the future.
But Angelakos’ knack for drama is most impressive on the thrilling centerpiece “Mirrored Sea”. Over a ceaseless rush of percussion and a flurry of blazing synths he sings “Oh, you mirrored sea / Your waves they’re haunting me,” and it feels like the momentum will toss him right into the water. But just in time, there’s the calming breeze of the song’s trance breakdown to let him catch his breath.
For all the fear and self-doubt and benders,
Gossamer has its share of romantic moments as well. The second half of the album examines love and its limits with songs that are a bit more straightforward — and thus less exciting. “On My Way” is a majestic love letter to Angelakos’ fiancee, featuring orchestral flourishes and a beautifully simple refrain of “Let’s get married”. Closing number “Where We Belong” could be seen as the companion piece, an intimate examination of how easily one can spin out of control without the caring hand and watchful eye of a loved one. Lest things get too sappy, there’s the cheeky “Love Is Greed”, centered on a jubilant chorus of “Love, love, love” that jackknifes into “Love is just greed / A selfish little need / You follow or you lead”. These mid-tempo treatises muddle together a bit, but their delicateness highlights Angelakos’ newly restrained songwriting style. Though the melodies aren’t always indelible, there’s always movement.
And it’s that constant motion that keeps
Gossamer afloat. By marrying nervy kineticism with sparkling, fluid atmospherics, Angelakos has extracted beauty from restlessness. Gossamer may not be as undeniably fun as the older stuff, but few bands make pop that brims with such vitality.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: The song we’re most excited to see live is the evocative “Mirrored Sea,” with its sprinting-to-the-edge-of-forever beat threatening to jostle you over the cliff.
Pops Like: Passion Pit’s sonic identity is so well defined and well executed that they really only sound like themselves. But, look hard enough and you’ll hear hints of the melancholy neon of ‘s Coldplay Mylo Xyloto, ‘s sweaty drama and even the baroque leanings of Daft Punk . Vampire Weekend
Best Listened To: Side 1: It’s late, you’re drunk and for once you’re with a bunch of people you actually like. Side 2: It’s late, you’re drunk and you’re with a bunch of people you actually like (and one that you might love).
Full Disclosure: This reviewer is still shackled to the anachronistic idea of the “album experience”, and thus feels the album had a slight limp at the finish line.
Idolator Rating: 4/5
— Carl Williott How does Gossamer compare to Manners? Tell us what you think in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.