Last time we heard from Michael Angelakos, he was struggling with the daily obstacles of manic depression. He opened up to various news sources about his personal life, dealing with thoughts of suicide, dependency on his wife, and how his music as Passion Pit functioned as a kind of therapy. The last song 2012’s excellent Gossamer literally repurposed death as a spiritual uplifting. Still, if you never looked into his lyrics beyond the anthemic choruses, “take a walk / take a walk”, “I get carried away,” there was nothing to suggest a darkness behind the overcaffeinated pop. However, add three years and a new lineup, and Kindred serves as a reintroduction to Passion Pit, a slightly more restrained, succinct album that finds Angelakos finally in his most comfortable state.
Lead single “Lifted Up (1985),” right off the bat, is one of the strongest Passion Pit songs of all time. It channels the melodicism of previous singles like “Sleepyhead” and “Carried Away” into a dancefloor hit that genuinely could’ve been on the radio in 1985. In under four minutes, Angelakos commands the song with utter joy, urgency, and a slight wink of understanding that his music is a one-trick-pony. Like all their music before it, Kindred equally sounds like it could sell children’s toys, casually intrigue both jocks and nerds on the same alt-radio station, or uplift someone out of intense depression. “Five Foot Ten” is so bubbly and overstuffed that it’s the aural equivalent of being splashed in the face with water. Angelakos knows this, and his slight cynicism and ear for incredible melody are the real combination that make Passion Pit stand a league above their contemporaries.
Even though maximalism stays front and center, some of the record’s stronger tracks use less to say more, like the R&B indebted “Where The Sky Hangs” and the swelling ballad “Looks Like Rain.” The succession on the album also feels more natural than on Gossamer and Manners, both of which had too many songs that bled into each other. Yet, on Kindred, even the weaker, less ambitious songs make up the fragile framework of the album’s order, and all ten songs help with the startling cohesion. At this point in their career, Passion Pit have perfected their candy coated anthems, and it’s easy to hear the lineage in some of the songs (“Where The Sky Hangs” comes from “Constant Conversations,” “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)” channels “I’ll Be Alright,” but rarely do they come across as repetitions.
All that said, Kindred lacks some of the depth that Gossamer found in its parallel between lyrics and music. Here, instead of singing about turmoil and attempts at finding beauty in tragedy, Angelakos turns to prayer, acceptance and love. Nearly half the tracks are love letters to his wife, and even though it’s easy to forget in all the madness, but he’s excellent at writing songs like that. It’s a tough divide, because even though he seems to be in a much better place than ever before, sometimes the words fail to resonate as much as he’s capable of.
I’m finding it ridiculously hard to write this review while I listen to the record, and the more I think about it, that’s the true success of Kindred. While most pop music you hear requires little attention, Passion Pit demand your full attention. Another quality that helps them stay above commercial made “indie rock” (itself a commercial term in 2015). I’ve probably heard American Authors and Foster The People hundreds of times on the radio, but I could tell you and describe more about any individual Passion Pit song than either of those band’s entire careers. So, write it off as easy pop music, but Kindred knows exactly what it is and it takes it with pride.