I felt like I had to listen to Kindred a couple times over before being able to form a solid opinion on the music. Of course it is easy to like, given its upbeat quality and blithe, glittery vocals, provided by artist and forefront of the band Michael Angelakos. Indeed, though Passion Pit seem to identify with the importance of change between their albums (Kindred being their third full studio album), if there is one thing that unites their music, it is the ability to sound so fitfully happy, no matter the subject of the music.
I bring up subject matter because of its relevance to Passion Pit as a project, and to Michael Angelakos as a person. From the huge success of Gossamer in 2012, came also the publication of Angelakos’ struggles to keep up his tour schedule while also dealing with mental illness, having to cut quite a few shows in order to take recovery time. Personal and melodic themes interspersed on Gossamer, with upbeat composition masking lyrics steeped in sadness and desperation.
Thus, going into Kindred, I personally was not sure what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised to find the lyrics of songs in the album to be happier, more carefree, even childlike, reminiscent of growing up, remembering good days, and celebrating the present. There is still enough bittersweet sentiment on the album to ground the listener in reality, but overall the theme of the album looks with optimism toward the future, and with fondness at the past.
Watch: “Lifted Up (1985)” – Passion Pit (Warning: This video may cause viewers with photo sensitive epilepsy to potentially experience seizures.)
As far as the track lineup goes, the album begins with no pretenses, opening on a grand scale with “Lifted Up (1985),” which was also the first single released by the band in promotion of Kindred. The chorus of the song praises its titular year, claiming that “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.” Angelakos invites the listener in, using a generalized pronoun to emphasize the idealization of a certain year, taking up the proverbial theme of the ‘good old days.’ (As a side note, Angelakos was born in 1987, so the meaning of the year seems to be rather less important than the nostalgia it symbolizes.) Without straying too far from familiar Passion Pit music, this song provides the perfect intro to the new album, which plays out into two halves. The first half, besides including the opening single, also includes “Where the Sky Hangs,” the second single released off the album, which begins with an inviting baseline, invoking smooth, 80s style jazz as the song unfolds into bells, snaps, harmonies, and keys mixing into the slow, lighthearted song. If this album symbolizes a younger and happier feel than past albums have, this song perhaps is the perfect example of the innocence of youth and the timelessness of easy summer days.
If there is such a thing as a second-wind for albums of only 10 tracks (plus four bonus remixes/reworkings of those tracks), then the key turning point in Kindred is song number 6, entitled “Dancing on the Grave.” Stripped down, as much as a Passion Pit song can simplify, with beautifully honest vocals, this track mimics the opening track, “Lifted Up (1985).” Angelakos’ vocals rise and fall in similar, if slower, wave patterns, painting “Dancing on the Grave” as a reprise of the album’s opening track and adding an element of theatricality to the composition as a whole. Even the two songs’ lyrics indicate their similarity, as the songs become foils of each other, with “Lifted Up” talking about a sense of belonging and “Dancing” indicating just the opposite feeling.
Thus, it is after the slow, uncertain track that is “Dancing” that “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)” breaks, breathing life and energy into the last four tracks of the album. This song, perhaps not coincidentally, was the third and final single released from Kindred, and makes a nice bookend for all three singles, coming back to the quick tempo of “Lifted Up.”
Kindred rides on the momentum of “Until We Can’t,” introducing two slower, reflective songs in a row in the forms of “Looks Like Rain” and “My Brother Taught Me How To Swim,” both of which create an emphasis on Angelakos’ vocal range, allowing runs both organic and manipulated, in order to create the perfect emotion for each track. Finally, the album comes to a close with “Ten Feet Tall (II),” indicated as the sequel to the earlier track “Five Foot Ten (I).” This is the most manipulated and autotuned track on the listing, yet unlike some pop songs where vocals are manipulated to reach notes otherwise not afforded to certain artists, Angelakos manipulates his voice into distortion, nearly screaming with discordant harmonies. However, as an ending track on an overall happy album, this track brings an overexertion of sound as a finale, as a way to end the the album with as much gusto as it opened with, and to cement the idea of the easy carelessness of youth, not reigned in by caution or consideration, but making music, making happy noise, just as a celebration of the fact that one can.
If you want to know more about Angelakos’ struggles with bipolar disorder, how he views himself as an artist, and how Kindred compares with Passion Pit’s earlier works, Cuepoint did one of very few interviews with Angelakos for the album, and it’s definitely an article worth checking out!
Like I said at the beginning of this article, I initially felt like I needed to listen to Kindred more than once in order to really gain a feel for the music. Looking back, it might also be that I listened over and over not out of necessity, but out of desire; out of a longing to feel completely in touch with each track, and to be able to completely understand the message of the album. Kindred is as much a mental exercise as it is an aural one, incorporating the listener’s imagination and penchant for nostalgia, providing a unique listening experience for each person to place themselves and their memories and feelings within the music itself. Thus, I recommend to the reader to listen to this album multiple times. Let it play in the background, let it be the soundtrack to your one-man dance party. Enjoy Kindred as it was meant to be enjoyed: With happiness.
Though it lacks the stand-out singles of Gossamer, this album definitely holds its own, and is perfect for summertime.
RIYL: Foster the People, The Naked and Famous, Smallpools, Matt & Kim, Two Door Cinema Club
Kindred – Passion Pit
Passion Pit released Kindred April 17, 2015 on Columbia Records.