3.5 stars (out of 4)
Given the subject matter –
That it’s not owes to the inventiveness of do-everything songwriter-producer-keyboardist-singer Michael Angelakos. Instead, it’s a soul record disguised as buoyant, uptempo dance-pop. It shares characteristics with The Weeknd’s introspective take on R&B, the twisted nostalgia of a
That sort of multi-layered something-for-everyone approach can be misleading. Listen to this music from a distance and it sounds like an aerobics soundtrack led by an androgynous cheerleader. Angelakos' tenor frequently breaks into a Barry Gibb-worthy falsetto, surrounded by a cast of sweet-voiced angels, including the Swedish a cappella trio Erato. Listen more closely, however, and "Gossamer" turns into something else: the diary of a breakdown.
Angelakos started his career with a bedroom recording designed to woo his then-girlfriend while attending Emerson College in Boston. When the track “Sleepyhead” became an unexpected
In the intervening years, Angelakos struggled with mental illness (he was diagnosed as bipolar as a teenager) and alcoholism. The singer doesn't hide his troubles behind metaphors on "Gossamer." The songs play like snapshots of a life unraveling. A concerned friend in "Constant Conversations" pours out a drink in the kitchen sink because "drinking doesn't make me nice." The narrator in "It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy" sounds like he's phoning in an apology from an institution: "Sorry, I couldn't be there/I was tied to a rocking chair/I was beat down to a pulp/Rocking back and forth somewhere."
Keyboards and more keyboards, strings, voices and walloping drums saturate the senses and turn songs into mini-symphonies with shout-along choruses. The onetime bedroom artist now makes first-rate pop anthems, gleaming rocketships of sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio next to
"Just believe in me, Kristina/All these demons/I can beat 'em," he sings with heartbreaking determination on the optimistically titled "On My Way."
Kristina, the singer's real-life partner, is the other crucial element in this album. "Gossamer" centers on Angelakos' breakdown, but it's also just as much about the selfless nature of love. It's the only thing that stands between one man and oblivion.