Pretty Complex Pop
Massachusetts synthpop band needs an elaborate setup on tour to play ‘electronic music like a rock band'
A week after the synthpop band Passion Pit posted a lengthy note on its website titled, "Why bands cancel shows (and why it sucks for everyone,)" frontman Michael Angelakos had bronchitis. "I might cough," he said at the start of a phone interview with Folio Weekly.
Uh-oh. The No. 1 reason for cancellations that was listed in the post was general illness. Fortunately for ticketholders, though, the show that night in Boulder, Co., was still happening. Surely it wasn't their intention, but the note has caused some nail-biting, so let's be clear: As of the printing of this article, the Nov. 8 concert in St. Augustine is still on the books.
The confusion comes in light of the band's highly publicized cancellations during the summer of 2012 after Angelakos sought medical treatment for bipolar disorder. More cancellations followed in February, September and October due to illnesses, scheduling conflicts and weather. During the writing of this article, a Portland, Ore., show was canceled despite a follow-up note from the Massachusetts band saying, "No shows on our current tour are up for any type of cancellation."
It wouldn't be fair just yet to compare them to Morrissey — the king of canceled concerts — but whether the band likes it or not, people are going to start taking bets on whether Passion Pit shows up.
At this point, the band's music seems almost doomed to be overshadowed by non-music headlines like, "Passion Pit singer deactivates Twitter account." But what of the songs? Several paragraphs in and all that has been written of the music is that it's "synthpop." What does that even mean? For Passion Pit, it simply means they make pop music that is largely defined by synthesizers. Just don't go thinking they're the next OMD or Eurythmics.
"With each show," Angelakos said, "you're going to look at the stage area and say, ‘Why are there so many keyboards?' We're big audiophiles. It's a very, very well-constructed, complex set-up. On top of that, we try to make it experiential."
Listen to the latest album, "Gossamer," and Passion Pit's need for an elaborate display of electronics is understandable. Layers upon layers of sounds are paired with layers upon layers of vocals. Often, what keeps the songs from coming across as a towering, overwhelming wall of sound is Angelakos' high-pitched voice breaking through with a surprising intensity.
"We play electronic music like a rock band," he said.
Even more surprising against a backdrop of unabashedly pop hooks and pounding, dance-inducing beats are the words he sings. Get wrapped up in the euphoric sounds of a song like, "Take a Walk," and he'll suddenly shove you back into real life with a line like, "I watch my little children play some board game in the kitchen, and I sit and pray they never feel my strife."
Angelakos brought up that the juxtaposition of happy music and sad lyrics has led people to use the phrase, "Passion Pit's bipolar music," which he clearly doesn't appreciate. His reaction: "I just think that's pretty reductive. Thanks. It's a lot more than that."
"I love the prettiness of Passion Pit," he said. "This is about winning, above all. Taking that pain and anguish and turning into … something beautiful and momentous. That's always something I've strived to do."
He called vulnerability a "crucial element of art," and sharing his own with thousands of audience members does not daunt him. The brightest part of the conversation came when he talked about fans singing along to his songs. "I've always loved that," he said. "The one thing that still clicks is that communal aspect. … It's really an exciting thing for us to feel like we're not just sitting there performing for people, but we're performing with people."
So what's your bet? Five bucks says they show or $5 says they don't? All jokes aside, let's hope the show goes on. o