Warning: As the first notes of ‘Lifted Up (1985)’ filter through your speakers, you would be forgiven in dismissing Kindred as being yet more of typical Passion Pit – frantic, bouncy synth-pop that dances a fine line between control and mania. Count to ten and you’ll get the falsetto that completes the package.
It’s this iconic sound that has carried Michael Angelakos through to his third album since the 2009 debut of Manners. The happy-go-lucky tone, however, hides a journey that Angelakos has taken Passion Pit’s fans on from the beginning: a no-holds-barred exposeÌ of his struggle with depression and bipolar disorder. While not as harrowing as 2012’s Gossamer, Kindred hides a deep sadness behind the glittering cheeriness of the synths. ‘Whole Life Story’, for example, is a heart-wrenching apology to Angelakos’ wife for the attention drawn to their personal lives after Gossamer, and the refrain – “don’t you let go” – drives home his desperation. It’s not the most complex or subtle lyricism, but there is something compelling about the unflinching way Angelakos bares his emotions. Reassuringly, Kindred offers some optimism amidst the struggle, as, in ‘All I Want’, Angelakos sings, “I get the notion that I’m almost there”. His faith seems to be the root of this, which Angelakos makes no attempt to hide. Instead he embraces it, with ‘My Brother Taught Me How To Swim’ being a punchy celebration of baptism. This isn’t new territory for Passion Pit, but it’s a far cry from the questioning “who says that God exists?” from Gossamer’s Where We Belong.
While Kindred shows development in Angelakos’ personal life, it’s less clear that the small changes intended to refine the ‘Passion Pit’ sound that caught its first fans with Sleepyhead back in 2009 have had their desired impact. The bouncy tracks likely to be played at parties don’t quite reach the same heights of Gossamer’s Take a Walk – Kindred’s high points are to be found in songs which are better suited for stargazing than dancing.
The memorable moments of Kindred are still fantastic – ‘Lifted Up’ will no doubt find itself in many a ‘summer driving’ playlist, and ‘Looks Like Rain’ stands out as breaking away from the standard, almost saccharine upbeat formula. It’s ‘Whole Life Story’ that steals the spotlight in Kindred, however. Here, Angelakos’ vision for the album is most clearly visible – it’s a refinement of classic Passion Pit, with twinkling melodies overlying soulful lyrics. It must be said, though, that for the band’s most concise album to date, you’d expect to find more stand-out moments than Kindred provides. Maybe Angelakos’ admission that he’s “almost there” has more meaning than he intended.