Michael Angelakos seems to be the musical version of that friend we all have who is consistently in a good mood. No matter the situation or the problem, they always seem to move through life with a smile on their face and a skip in their step. Angelakos’ latest release with his band Passion Pit, Kindred, lyrically centres on darker and more personal subject matter than any of their prior outputs. Unfortunately, these topics are glossed over and improperly dealt with due to the polished, pop production found throughout the record. Kindred is arguably Passion Pit’s most upbeat and playful release to date, which creates an awkward juxtaposition between lyrical content and musical complexion.
Passion Pit took a big step into the mainstream with 2013’s Gossamer and gained huge mainstream success with the tracks “Take a Walk” and “Carried Away.” Despite this, the excellence of Gossamer came from its balance. Yes, the big hooky pop tracks were there, but Angelakos nicely worked in some slower, more intimate moments to ground the record in reality.
On Kindred, that authenticity falls away and the big hooky pop tracks lack the same punch. It’s easy to tell Angelakos is swinging for the fences with tracks like “Lifted Up (1985)” and “My Brother Taught Me How to Swim,” but unfortunately the ball is landing within the field of play. This ultimately leaves the album in a clumsy limbo where it doesn’t work as either a pop or indie record.
“I go on too many dates / But I can’t make ‘em stay / At least that’s what people say,” proclaims Taylor Swift in her infectious chart-topper “Shake It Off.” However, when Ryan Adams sings it on his track-by-track cover of Swift’s 1989, he swaps the pop anthem’s defiance for a melancholic affirmation of despair. With Adams’ reimagining of Swift’s Max Martin-produced pop album as a collection of acoustic folk rock tracks, he effectively crafts a kind of 1989 unplugged. Through this, an emotional resonance absent on Swift’s glossy, radio-ready album is evoked. “It’s so sad to think about the good times, you and I,” Adams laments on “Bad Blood,” transforming Swift’s upbeat and empowering kiss-off to Katy Perry (supposedly) into a ruminative ballad on heartbreak. And the already-sad “I Wish You Would” becomes sadder through Adams’ sparse and restrained arrangement, creating space for sorrow and disenchantment to linger. However, what Adams also manages to do is reveal Swift’s ability to construct timeless, genre-less, expertly-written songs. Despite Swift describing 1989 as her “first documented official pop album,” she never really strayed far from her singer-songwriter country roots, with Adams’ 1989 ultimately confirming Swift’s status as a master of songcraft.
Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty’s latest project shines not simply because of its not-quite-bittersweet melodies, but because of Josh Tillman’s explicitly vivid and oddball brand of lyricism. In Honeybear, Tillman approximates Bob Dylan in his descriptive songwriting, crafting verses that range from the laughably irreverent to the kind of sad, detached realism that makes the listener wonder why life isn’t as starkly portrayed by other artists, despite the fact that the aspects of life that Tillman chooses to focus on seem to be almost exclusively anemic.
Despite this grave depiction of the world and the people who inhabit it, Tillman somehow manages to not only find comfort, but supplies it: “I’ve brought my mother’s depression / You’ve got your father’s scorn and a wayward aunt’s schizophrenia / But everything is fine, don’t give into despair / Cause I love you, honeybear.”
As bleak as the imagery presented in I Love You, Honeybear may be, it strikes the listener in as unforgiving a fashion as a splash of ice-cold water to the face mere minutes after having been woken up. And, in my opinion, Tillman’s endeavour to celebrate the disheartening instead of the hopeful, alongside his exquisite lyricism, is something to be celebrated.