New(ish) Music Tuesday: Kindred, by Passion Pit

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
This is the album cover. I don't know what it's supposed to
mean, either.
If not for that one cute girl in one of my college English classes that I nursed a tragically unrequited crush on for a couple of months (no, the other one), I would have no idea that Passion Pit even existed. Heck, even if I had encountered them on my own, I probably would have avoided them purely on the basis of their frankly ridiculous name -- which would have been a shame, because while that girl and that English class may have already begun to fade into the gauzy, nostalgic haze of the past, I've remained something of a staunch Passion Pit fan.

Gossamer, the band's last outing, was legitimately one of the best pop albums I've heard in a long time. Full of glittering synths, thundering drums, soaring choruses, and hooks so ear-wormy they could be considered a mild form of mind control (seriously, I still have "Take a Walk" stuck in my head), it, like so many second-albums, is kind of emblematic of the band that made it. It's an earnest album that's unafraid to feel things, even if those things sound cheesy or ridiculous when you put them into words. Cleverly hidden beneath its sunny production and bleepy-bloopy arrangements are layers of melancholy, yearning, and self-consciousness that spoke to confused, directionless college-era me, and continue to speak to confused, directionless present-day me. However, also like all second-albums, it posed the serious risk of killing its band.

The Third Album Curse is a thing -- in most cases, a band only has two albums' worth of quality material in them, and once those two albums are spent, it's all downhill (for the best recent example, listen to Arctic Monkeys' third album Humbug. Or better yet, don't, because it's about as fun and appealing as an abscessed tooth). So, when I started hearing about Passion Pit's new album, Kindred, I was a little skeptical. Lead singer and basically-only-permanent-band-member Michael Angelakos was clearly a talented guy, but was he among the daring few talented enough to overcome the Third Album Curse and turn it into something awesome?

Long story short: pretty much?

Is Kindred as good as Gossamer? No, but it's not like it necessarily had to be. I've gushed enough about the album's absolutely killer lead-in track "Lifted Up (1985)", a high-flying pop confection with lyrics so outlandishly romantic that they'd read as parody coming out of the mouth of any other singer on the planet. Other highlights include "Until We Can't (Let's Go)", an alternatingly anxious and bombastic take on the classic Intercourse With You mold; "Five Foot Ten", which calls to mind the bugged-out, glitchy aesthetic of Passion Pit's first album (its sequel, "Ten Feet Tall" closes out the album in majestic fashion); and "Where the Sky Hangs", which settles into a more relaxed groove and makes for a refreshing break from all the outsized whimsy that fills the rest of the album.

And seeing as I'm running out of synonyms for "romantic" and "bombastic", I guess it's probably as good a time as any to delve into the stuff that doesn't work. Kindred is, for better or worse, ten more tracks' worth of Gossamer. The mistake most bands make with their third album is to try and go in a radically different direction (thinking that changing up their sound will make up for the fact that they've run out of things to say), but here Angelakos seems to have just expanded on all the stuff that Gossamer did well, so Kindred is at once more and less than that album. Its epic sweeps are more epic and more sweeping, but most of them don't land with as much impact. Both albums have a few slow, 'breather' songs in between the big numbers, but Gossamer's felt more dynamic and less perfunctory. There's definitely a sense of diminishing returns here. Overall, while still a fine record in its own right, Kindred sometimes feels like the Flanderized version of Passion Pit: the entertaining stuff is stronger, sure, but at the expense of complexity and nuance (is that two TV Tropes links in one album review? Why yes. Yes it is.)

I'll wrap it up in a second here, but I'd like to mention that the Spotify version of Kindred has a couple of bonus alternate takes on a few of the tracks, and I found most of them to be better and more varied than the versions that appear on the final album. They're definitely worth a listen.

Kindred, however narrowly, manages to beat the Third Album Curse by doubling down on the things that people who like Passion Pit generally like about Passion Pit -- really, that's as valid an approach as any. Whether or not they've legitimately beaten the curse or just postponed its effects till their next outing, though, remains to be seen. Still, there's plenty to like here for both longtime fans and people just looking for a fun, summer-y pop album.



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