Passion Pit main man Michael Angelakos has always been at his most efficient when heading up a one-man assembly line that cranks out tight four-minute singles predestined as soundtracks for New Year’s Eve balloon drops. Each cut features a tense but giddy buildup, a dizzying payoff loaded with more bells and whistles than a Japanese game show, and a glum aftermath made real by a lyrical awareness that life ain’t even close to perfect—not far off from a glass of champagne with a fleck of cigarette ash floating near its rim. Sometimes, though, it can be tough to hear solemnity through a sound that resembles a Tickle Me Elmo slowly being backed over by a car.
On the new album, Kindred, Angelakos—Passion Pit’s founder and only constant member—isn’t shy about throwing a Home Depot’s worth of kitchen sinks into a slicker version of the, ahem, “indietronica” that he committed to on 2012’s solid Gossamer. A mix of electronic and organic beats drive ultra-saturated, hyper-colored tracks as Angelakos’ uncanny, oft-falsetto—and occasionally Auto-Tuned, unfortunately—vocals skip and pirouette in rhythm with the bleeps and bloops spewing out of his keyboards.
At its most bombastic, Kindred is a battlefield of its own eccentricities with no regard for or worry about approaching a tipping point. Featuring an intro that could coexist alongside Mufasa giving a lesson on the circle of life, the great album opener, “Lifted Up (1985),” like Gossamer’s “Take A Walk” before it, represents a dramatic dropping of the curtain to unveil Angelakos, holding a lit match, standing behind a dozen confetti cannons with their fuses twisted together.
Still, full-bore tracks like “Lifted Up (1985)” and “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”—the latter of which includes a Sleigh Bells–like glitz-pop breakdown—are tempered by the understated soulfulness in Angelakos’ voice, as well as melancholy themes in his lyrics (he’s long been publicly open about his bipolar disorder, to which he often alludes). Plus, Kindred finds him committing to a stripped-down minimalism more than he has on any other Passion Pit album—proving that he can create just as much suspense by honoring simplicity. For example, “Where The Sky Hangs,” which features a chiming melody plucked right from a grab bag of hook-driven ’80s-era synth-pop, is little more than a smoldering groove that gently nudges you along, up until Angelakos rips the cord and his voice hits its upper-upper register.
Passion Pit albums occasionally seem like they want to trick listeners into enjoying them at face value. Which can be fun; there’s no denying that. Not only are the band’s sweeping whoa-whoa-whoa hooks undeniably easy to dance to, but Angelakos’ playful and electric vocals, as peculiar as they can get at times, pair nicely with the raucous party. The advantage of Kindred, though, is that Angelakos’ focus on being more versatile requires attention, which results in a greater appreciation for all that he does—like, say, make sense of an amorphous, orbiting cloud of zany noises—and gives the listener a pretty good excuse to settle into the album rather than flippantly blow right through it.