Meshell Ndegeocello Talks Passion Pit’s Kindred

The weary songwriter finds relief from a troubled world on Passion Pit’s nostalgic new album.

“There are so many interesting times we could have visited.”
― Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

For the last few weeks, my conversations have been dominated by a couple of new releases and the ongoing social unrest due to police brutality, and I must admit that I have shied away from engaging with any of them.

Yes, the world is in need of some reflection and dialogue about race. But it weighs so heavy on my heart that I cannot grasp or foresee a solution, nor explain the suffering of others, here or anywhere, from famine, drought, war, at the hands of rapists, police, inequality or the universe’s cold truths. And yes, Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo have made new albums. People want me to talk about that too, they think it’s categorically for me to weigh in on. But now, in these dark days, I seek escape through music, fiction and food, just as in my youth I found solace in pop music, sex and the promise of true love. Passion Pit soothes my busy mind.

I rush home to the one I love. She hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Passion Pit started as well. She’s also the one who introduced me to them. When I hear the sound of Michael Angelakos’s voice, I time-travel. I can remember her bright orange Volvo station wagon and the feeling that finally I had found my safe harbor. Perhaps I was like a teenager reading my own life into Michael Angelakos lyrics on Chunk of Change (2008), his first release: six audible emotions, like a gift for a girlfriend.

Passion Pit’s new album Kindred begins with “Lifted Up (1985)”. The year 1985 gave us new Coke, Tommy Hilfiger, Super Mario Bros., “We Are the World,” and in Philadelphia, police bombed the headquarters of the radical group MOVE to end a stand-off, killing 11 MOVE members and destroying the homes of 61 city residents in the resulting fire. In 1985, I was 17, finding refuge in A-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on TV” and the obtuse vocal stylings of Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside.

The top lines of “Lifted Up (1985)” speak to me. I can easily apply the lyrics to all of my struggles, both real and imagined:

“All my life I stay here waiting
Every new year, always making me
Feel as though there’s nothing up there but
One day you came out of nowhere
The sky broke apart and you appeared
Dropped from the heavens,
they call me a dreamer I won’t lie,
I knew you would belong here
Lifted off the ground.”

The song begins with a shimmering sound — I hear cathedral organs made of glass — and the upbeat rhythms manufacture an ’80s feeling, of L.A. sunsets, top down, pretty faces. The drums drop on the pre-chorus, building drama, and then he sings, “One day you came out of nowhere!” The straight beat propels the pretty chords in a loop that’s easy to take in.

Angelakos beckons me to feel joy with the track “Whole Life Story.” I was moved to move. It begins with a dreamy loop, synth bubbles and congregational-style claps, and again he drops the heavy rhythm to allow his earnest point of view to be heard. I love how he then shifts the clap to the downbeats to settle into a pulse that just feels good. It’s a simple but well-crafted song.

My love also often reminds me to maintain a sense of humor, especially when you need it the most. That brings me to “Where the Sky Hangs,” with its soulful bop. It reminds me of hot summer nights, wind blowing through a taxi window as I speed across the Brooklyn Bridge; the sounds are crisp and the production makes my Sonos happy. “All I Want” strikes at the part of me seeking explanations. It offers a quick fix, a moment’s relief, by getting quickly to the hook and repeating the needed reminders. By the end, I have once again renewed my pledge to love. I then find myself putting “Dancing on the Grave” on repeat, as it lifts the fog, relieves the melancholy and lets the light in.

I admit: I personalized my Kindred sequence, omitting a few tracks that didn’t hold my attention. My version ends with “Looks Like Rain,” which has a beautiful melody and an even gait, and the lyrics complement it with watery imagery. (“You soaked under all of the grey/And the rain washed all our cries and pleas away.”)

It’s rare for me to think back. There are parts of my timeline I wish to omit. So I thank you, Michael Angelakos, for a moment of escape from my lonely mind.

Hailed by the New York Times as “a singer-songwriter of searching candor and an electric bassist of mesmerizing skill,” Meshell Ndegeocello has been called everything from avant-garde to a dying breed. You can follow her on Twitter here and visit her website here.