Go back to the beginning of Passion Pit, because we have never left that time. Rewind. Musicians are tuning up in the orchestra pit at the Met. This is too close to now, but this sound is important. Rewind further back. A group of kindergarteners run and shout on a playground. We have gone too far in the past, but this sound is also important. These are sounds that will percolate through Michael Angelakos’ pop project.
Now it is 2007, Boston. This is it. The right then. Michael sits with a laptop in his apartment. He is in college and 19, filled with excitement and frustration, happiness and dread. Like we all are then and now. He is making pop songs. Pop with two capital Ps and a big O. Pop songs for his friends to dance and party to. He pours these feelings into these songs. This is Passion Pit. From the very beginning, this is the purpose of Passion Pit, to make his friends feel good. Through the process, he inadvertently discovered something else. These feel-good songs were a strong and easy vessel for stashing his insecurities and emotions. And this is the duality of Passion Pit.
Jump to 2014. Michael is bouncing around in a music studio. The music he has made is blaring over the monitors, a looped sample of religious chanting, sped up into a swirl until it sounds like children in a schoolyard. Drums boom, like timpanis in the orchestra pit. He is singing over the top, as if on stage, pacing and jumping as if he were performing, making up melodies and lyrics on the fly. Chris Zane and Alex Aldi, coRE: KINDRED olumbia Records 550 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10022-3211 producers and engineers, watch in the control room, waiting for Michael to break through with the right melody. This is how Kindred is written. “Every other time you set out to make a masterpiece, you never do,” Michael says. “This time I just wanted to make a good record.”
Ask Michael and he will tell you that Passion Pit is a character, this 19-year-old him with his back against the wall, his life a blur. He slips back into this skin to deal with all the things that he wasn’t able to deal with then. He slips back to investigate the dark memories that he has never gotten over. “I keep going back to this,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t want to, but you have to for Passion Pit.”
This time, slipping back in, life was not so blurry. The music that poured out of him became more simple and clear. He finally had fun making this record. It made him laugh, more than anything else in his life. He played with pop-song tropes he had previously found annoying—sing-along choruses, even Auto-Tune—to make them not-annoying by exaggerating them, inverting them, scrambling them in typical Passion Pit fashion. The new songs are direct and color saturated, like films from the ‘50s. Songcraft was crucial. Just cut the bullshit and write a good song, he told himself. Though this being Passion Pit, nothing is ever so simple. This is complicated minimalism, meticulous construction built around unfettered vulnerability. In taking a shortcut, Michael inevitably ends up on the scenic route.
The lyrics bundle universal truths of everyday life, dressed up and performed like a musical. Michael’s falsetto machetes olumbia Records 550 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10022-3211 through the flowers of keyboards, vines of loops, and thorns of hooks to the front and center. There is a newfound, brazen sensuality that allows us to slip into his body with him. “Pop is certainly an art form, but it’s also a really powerful platform,” he says. “Instead of going on Twitter or sharing everything on social media, I just make music.”
The timeline of Passion Pit is like zooming out on a pixelated image. Chunk of Change is a few basic shapes of bright primary colors. Zoom out to Gossamer. An overloaded impressionist field of a thousand dots. Zoom out even further to Kindred. The big picture has come into focus. We have been looking at a family portrait all along.
Kindred is an album about family. Not blood relations, but the community of friends we build for ourselves. This is our family. “I’ve gone through my entire damn life feeling like I can’t connect with a single person, but always wanting to so badly,” Michael says. You dive deeper and deeper, the world gets darker, then what you finally realize is everyone else is down there in the dark too. We are alone, but alone together.
HOLYCHILD is comprised of Liz Nistico and Louie Diller. They met in college in 2011, have been writing music ever since and call their genre, brat pop.
"Brat pop is one-half rebellion and one-half entertainment,” Diller says. “We’re not in it to spoon-feed people, but we are in it to entertain, put on a show, make people happy and make them move.”
On their debut album The Shape Of Brat Pop to Come, HOLYCHILD takes on nothing less than the idea of power dynamics and inequality—be it racial, social status, or gender-motivated. The beats are wild (thanks in no small part to Diller’s stint in Cuba studying Afro-Cuban drumming), and the tongues are placed firmly in cheek. The cover features a naked shot of Nistico, with hundred dollar bills covering her vagina. Meanwhile the censored version is a close up of Nistico's lips as she eats a dollar bill. She confirms that, while provocative, like everything else the band does, these images serve a purpose.
“On one hand we use sex to sell things,” she muses. “We’re drawing people in by being like, “Look! Sex sex sex!’ And then being like, ‘Sex sells! Why do you buy into that?’ That concept is really fascinating to me. It’s definitely hypocritical, but at the same time I feel like we’re all hypocrites.”
Nistico assures that while their message is clear, it’s not definitive. After all, we’re all humans, right? At the end of the day HOLYCHILD is about posing questions—not providing answers.