Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review of Passion Pit's "Tremendous Sea of Love"

I posted this review just a few minutes ago on

Review Summary: This coulda been a contender!

Passion Pit's Tremendous Sea of Love is a strange album. The songs from it were originally posted on YouTube this past March. Shortly thereafter, they were taken down, but Passion Pit (aka, Michael Angelakos) then announced to fans that he would send a free downloadable copy of the whole album to anyone who retweeted a post by the neuroscientist Michael T. Wells regarding the importance of science and research. Angelakos also released a public statement to his fans to the effect that this was a "warts and all" project that he had mixed himself. It was created simply for the joy of creating it. In July, the album was finally released for sale, but only the digital version. To date, no CD or vinyl copies are available. 

Clearly, then, this is a DIY sort of project, and Angelakos is hoping it won't be held to a fully professional standard. That's all well and good, but we music fans can be an obsessive lot. For the most part, the LP has been well received, and it is a pretty good effort. But the album kind of pisses me off. Because it could have been a great one.

Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few excellent tracks here. This is a artist who really knows how to create some crisp electropop songs. Numbers like "To the Other Side" and "Hey K" are up there with some of Passion Pit's best tracks from their first three albums, and "Inner Dialogue" is one of those strange, inside-out-sounding songs (complete with electronically altered vocals) that reminds me of 2008's weird-and-wonderful "Sleepyhead".

There are just two areas where TSoL falls short. The first is the overall concept of the album. For the most part, it seems to be about the contrast between the judgement-free and unconditional love he received from his ex-wife Kristy Mucci vs. the love he feels he should have received from his mother. (It's also something of an apology letter to Mucci, since he divorced her in 2015 after coming out as gay). If an album from a grown man about mom-blame feels a little uncomfortable to you, you're not alone.

This relates directly to the other problem with the album, its second track "Somewhere Up There". TSoL opens with a short instrumental intro-track called "Moonbeam", a satisfying overture-type of number that sets up some of the musical themes that repeat throughout the album. This leads into "Somewhere Up There", an intriguing song complete with those swirling synth-effects that Angelakos does so well. For roughly three-and-a-half minutes, this is the best track on the album. Then, the music starts to fray a little, and suddenly stops altogether while someone (Angelakos?) delivers a short lecture about mother-child attachment theory. The music starts up again, slow and disjointed, then stops dead once more. What you hear next is a voicemail from Angelakos' mom that I guess is supposed to illustrate the kind of flawed mother-son attachment the lecturer had just been speaking about (but really just sounds like the kind of sorry-we've-been-playing-phone-tag message that moms the world over leave for their children). Rip off! Thanks a lot for ruining one of your best songs so you could insert your own personal family drama into my psyche.

Maybe I'm making too much of it. Maybe the track is an ingenious reflection of Angelakos' own emotional issues. It could be that this disfigured track represents him -- the first part is him as he could have been, dragged down by the second part, the psychological issues he developed as a result of this blemished attachment. Perhaps the rest of the album illustrates the beauty he was able to retain thanks to the healing power of Mucci's love. Who knows? All I can tell you is that the vandalization of this otherwise exquisite song is enough to knock a full half-star off the album's rating for me.

On the whole, Tremendous Sea of Love is still a good album. It just bothers me that it was almost so much better. I suspect that Angelakos released the LP the way he did, giving fans the opportunity to acquire it for free, because he had something he needed to say, and he didn't want to change it just to make the album more accessible to people like me. Even in its current state, it's worth a listen, or the price of a download. Unfortunately, though, it's not going to make my Top Ten list for this year. And damn it, it coulda been a contender!

Rating: 3 of 5 stars