There's an enormous, monumental difference between listening to music with company, and listening to music alone, but you already know that. You've had a tune make your blood flow and your conversations run wild, all just to leave you cold when you replay it by your lonesome after the party. You've had a buddy talk up a track until their face turned blue, only to discover its magic for yourself when it pops up on shuffle months and moths later. It's a natural part of being a music fan: discovering what, exactly, you feel great about playing in front of your compatriots, and what you save for your private stash. As their mutual release dates imply, I've given myself ample time to waffle back and forth about the two discs in question, leading my mind towards this interesting schism in the universe of musical fan-dom. My face might turn red if I played a couple of Gossamer or Major tracks in front of a hot date, but that doesn't stop me from cranking them in my headphones.
Fang Island is no stranger to this conundrum. While their self-titled debut was widely lauded by certain individuals (myself included), the praise couldn't protect the band from some measure of scornful laughter aimed at their heedlessly excitable sound. At first, Major seems a bit too aware of this, avoiding immediate comparison by opening with the Dan-Deacon-if-Dan-Deacon-was-really-really-sleepy piano ballad Kindergarden, a catchy-enough number that's entirely too chilled-out. The following tracks, aspiringly single-ready Sisterly, Seek it Out, Make Me, and Never Understand, trade in the band's devil-may-care energy for by-the-numbers pop rhetoric, mistaking more frequent lyrics, and more diligent adherence to verse-chorus-verse song structures with actual evolution. Truth be told, they're better than most as making poppy little sing-a-longs, but that won't be the reason behind any of their devoted fans giving Major a few spins, a fact of which the disc's second-half seems surprisingly aware.
Asunder, the first tune to follow those aforementioned led-foots, plays out like you'd hoped all of Major would, positively ripping into a jam session that's perfectly in line with what their previous album so boldly promised. It's a blast, a celebration of rowdy-ness that continues with the extatic intrestmental Dooney Rock. The rest of the thing follows suit, only dipping into non-party-mode on closer Victorinian, a song both synonimous and superior to the album's opener.
Gossamer, on the other hand, is a much more thematically convoluted beast. Michael Angelakos, that sky-scrapping voice behind some of the indie-sphere's most unapologetically chipper entries of the last several years, is up to his old tricks here, but his lyrical concerns fly directly in the face of the glossy tunes in which they're encased. The protagonists of his album, be they as literal as himself, or as figurative as the workings of his imagination, are bogged down in severe problems with money and alcoholism. Take lead single and album opener Take a Walk, a stomping, wall-shaking number whose sonics barely allude to the emotional turmoil at hand, lines about taxes, foreclosures, cross-continent migration, and familial desintigration buried unter tidal-waves of synth.
As many demons as Angelakos appears to be facing, his musical scope, while impressively well-developed, is microscopic in range, spilling sunshine and kittens all over tracks about fake friendships (Constant Conversations), abusive relationships (Cry Like a Ghost), and extreme problems with the bottle (I'll Be Alright). The man is trapped within his abilities, summarizing his whole conundrum perfectly by shouting, "I'm so self-loathing that it's hard for me to see/Reality from what I dream/And no one believes me/No, not a single thing." It's tragic stuff, a depressed-as-can-be Angelakos incarcerated inside his cotton candy world, the dichodomy making for a more fascinating, mysterious listen than one might have thought Passion Pit capable of crafting.
Truth be told, both Major and Gossamer are mixed bags, wherein the best content soars and elates, while the lower-end stuff merely bores. Following the opposite trajectory of Fang Island's effort, PP's is mercilessly front-loaded, popping off all its best numbers as quickly as possible. Each disc can boast of stellar, rambunctious 25 minutes of pounding power pop. It's the kind of stuff that plays on full blast in my headphones as I walk down the street on a sunny day, kept away from my smart-ass friends who might deride it. Think of it as a party for one.
Major Grade: B
Gossamer Grade: B