Even when Michael Angelakos’ chirpy, radiant pop blinds with its cuteness, it’s hard not to respect its aplomb: On Passion Pit’s 2009 debut, Manners, Angelakos and his band of Berklee-alum gadget-fiddlers ascended to the summit of Mt. Synth-Pop, using vintage synthesizers, electronic rhythms, and Angelakos’ cartoonish chipmunk falsetto. At times it sounded almost like too much of a good thing, the musical equivalent of staring straight at the sun for 45 minutes. Gossamer, Passion Pit’s heavily anticipated sophomore album, is even bigger, filled with indulgent overdubs and bulging with keyboards. That massiveness is evident even during the frosty intro of opener “Take A Walk,” in which graceful harmonium chords and twinkling xylophones give way to a foot-stomping surge of synth leads and a brick wall of wordless harmonies. Elsewhere, the beefy low end of dance-floor jams like “Carried Away” and “Mirrored Sea” threatens to disassemble sub-woofers.
But Gossamer is also more elegant than its predecessor. Toning down Manners’ strained falsetto, Angelakos sings with clarity and confidence, exploring his warmer lower range on the electro-psych rush of closer “Where We Belong” and nailing every high note on the excellent, R. Kelly-esque slow jam “Constant Conversations.” Lyrically, Angelakos remains verbose, but without some of the past preciousness and in the service of some bleak subject matter. Angelakos chronicles his battles with alcoholism, mental illness, depression, and failed relationships, all with startling openness. Over the electro-orchestral flutters of “On My Way,” the rock-bottom protagonist proposes marriage to his girlfriend (“Let’s get married / I’ll buy a ring and then we’ll consecrate this messy love”), and on “Where We Belong,” he grapples with the existence of God, finding solace in humans instead. Angelakos’ lyrical wit ensures that even the weightiest sentiments resonate, and the joyous glow of the music is a revelation all its own. Throughout Gossamer, Angelakos sounds broken and confused, wrestling with his demons, cage match-style, on an oversized stage. (Judging by his recent tour cancellations, that battle is very much ongoing.) But despite the emphasis on struggle, Gossamer couldn’t sound more assured.