Passion Pit, "Gossamer"(Columbia)
Shiny, happy sounds define the music of Passion Pit. On "Manners," the debut full-length album released in 2010, synthesizers shimmered and pealed with lustrous timbres, while dance beats pulsed with tireless programmed jubilation behind Michael Angelakos' falsetto voice. "Gossamer," the second Passion Pit album, adds both new gizmos and a more human touch: dizzying electronic stutters, wavery manipulated voices, chiming glockenspiels, stately pianos, female backup singers, twittering woodwinds and elegiac string sections. It's larger and much cleaner than life -- that is, until Angelakos' lyrics sink in.
Then it turns out that things aren't so euphoric after all. The songs on "Gossamer" revolve around a romance besieged by the singer's own cynicism, insecurity, obsessiveness, abusive behavior and heavy drinking. Take "I'll Be Alright." It's full of digitally splintered chipmunk voices and bursts of drum sounds with a galloping beat and that reassuring refrain, "I'll be all right." But the singer is actually giving his partner permission to leave him: "I know we've had enough," he admits. "Just go find someone new."
Angelakos -- Passion Pit's songwriter, singer and all-around instrumentalist -- has dropped the notion that Passion Pit is a band. He made "Gossamer" with his producer and drummer, Chris Zane, aided on some songs by arranger Nico Muhly and Swedish vocal trio Erato. "Gossamer" is a studio extravaganza, updating the grandeur of groups like Abba and the Beach Boys to the 21st century -- especially in "On My Way," an ornately orchestrated marriage proposal.
Although Angelakos played nearly all the instruments, the results don't sound solitary. On "Manners," Passion Pit was gleaming yet opaque; Angelakos' voice was buried amid the synthesizers, the arrangements thumped along with little change from start to finish, and the net effect was -- to be blunt -- monotonous. "Gossamer" opens up the music and lets it breathe. For all the artificial splendor, there's clearly a very human, very troubled voice at the center of these songs.
JON PARELES, New York Times
Azealia Banks,"Fantasea" (self-released)
Speed-rappers don't get enough respect. Do Busta Rhymes or Twista albums ever achieve the legendary status of "The Blueprint" or "Illmatic"? That goes double for female rappers. History will prove whether 21-year-old Harlemite Azealia Banks (a performing-arts schoolmate of Nicki Minaj) can change that. Her incandescently bawdy debut single "212" was a dark horse best-of-2011 single. "Fantasea," her first mix tape, is rarely as instantly quotable; Banks raps too quick and cool to parse casually (notable exception: "up in the hood like Ku Klux"). Luckily, it bumps enduringly for an hour of excavated hip-house beats morphing through an all-night retro party. The best hook is on the track called "Luxury" (duh). It's whistled (whoa!).
DAN WEISS, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER