, July 23rd, 2012 06:00
I’m not cool. I used to be, I think, for a while, back when I worked in a record store, but that was by proxy and a long time ago, when those things still existed. But I’m no longer down with the kids. I haven’t listened to the radio intentionally in years; I get the majority of my recommendations from a small group of trusted websites and have no idea as to what constitutes 'popular' music nowadays. On the odd occasion that I do overhear snippets of chart music, however, I find myself surprised at how much of an influence comparatively niche genres like dubstep, drum & bass and 'wonky' electronica seem to have had recently on the mainstream; hyper-speed breakbeats, warped bass-lines, helium vocals and neon-lit synths pop up everywhere, be it as incidental music on Hollyoaks or soundtracking mobile phone adverts. On this basis – supported by the fact my wife has not only heard of them but actually owns and enjoys some of their music – I’m guessing Passion Pit are pretty popular, meaning you probably think they’re cool if you spend your Sundays in bed watching T4, or not if you’re, well, reading this.
It’s easy to see why Passion Pit might inspire an extreme reaction. Their warm, squidgy electro is basically genetically-engineered perfect pop, but unless you’re twelve years old the first thing that will hit you about second album Gossamer is its sentimentality. Opener (and lead single) 'Take A Walk' finds front-man Michael Angelakos weaving stories from his own family history into a post-financial crisis morality tale, and from there he goes on to intimately detail the “many messes” and bad decisions he’s made, and the friends and lovers he’s hurt as a result. It’s a sugar-coated, sanitised version of the brutally honest lyrical scab-picking that artists like Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst appear to have passed down to a new generation of Twilight fans, but whilst it’s sickly-sweet enough to make your gums bleed, such schmaltz should come as no surprise: this is, after all, a band whose debut EP, Chunk Of Change, was made up of songs recorded by Angelakos as a Valentine’s Day gift to his then-girlfriend, and whose first album, Manners, featured a children’s choir (yes, a choir of children) on massed backing vocals.
In the right measure, though, a little sentimentality is okay. Full disclosure: I actually quite enjoyed that initial EP and would probably have kept the album in my iTunes library if it wasn’t for those pesky kids. Fortunately Gossamer has enough going on musically to shift the focus away from the occasionally mawkish lyrics. Most songs are set to racing, danceable beats - fat basslines and cavernous snare hits enveloping stuttering, Timbaland-esque micro-rhythms - with see-sawing synths and Angelakos’ keening vocals combining to provide naggingly memorable hooks that rank, without fail, somewhere between 'huge' and 'epic'. Even when the tempo drops, briefly, for gorgeous, gently pulsating R&B slow-jam 'Constant Conversations', the effect is less of an indie band trying to be sexy and soulful than of one defiantly punching above its weight in an effort to go large, trying to recreate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with fluorescent spray-paint.
With the likes of ]I'll Be Alright' and 'Hideaway' trading as much on a general feeling of euphoria as on their Beach Boys harmonies or electro pyrotechnics, it's tempting to view Passion Pit as the kind of group the Shins might have become had James Mercer - in some Sliding Doors-style alternative reality - hooked up with Rustie instead of Danger Mouse; an indie-rave stadium band in waiting. Certainly, their songs display the same emotive, anthemic quality as those of our own, widely beloved Coldplay, as well as the same wide-eyed naivety, but Angelakos and his companions' open-armed invitations are more likely to get a reluctant hug in return than a knee in the bollocks. I guess whether you find them cool or not depends on your capacity for good will, but there's enough positivity flying around here to win over a few haters. We may not always appreciate our pop stars telling us that "someday everything will be ok", but to these ears Passion Pit make it sound pretty convincing.