Note: PMA gives away each album it reviews. Learn how to enter at the end of the review.
Out May 19th
The way I see it, Passion Pit is like the friend you have who’s always excited about everything.When he talks to you about something, you can’t help but get really excited about it too.But at the same point you're worried about spending more than about 30 minutes with him, since that much undiluted enthusiasm just makes you go bonkers.
Such were my fears going into Manners.I had been spinning the Chunk Of Change EP for months – the setlist from the EP release show is hanging on my bedroom wall (no big deal).I’ve seen them 3 times live (highly recommended) and am pumped to catch them next time they’re in Boston in June.Each time they performed, the set was tight – six or seven songs packed into a half hour set that cranked it up to 11.I loved every song on the EP and thought there was no way that the band’s first album could come close to the standard that had been set.I set my expectations low, ready for disappointment.
And then something kinda crazy happened.Manners didn’t disappoint.It was pretty good.In fact, it was really good – in the rare way that wins you over on first listen and convinces you more and more every successive spin. Passion Pit called me a fool, opened my eyes a bit, and transformed from a hyped band to a good band.
You see, Chunk of Change was all about energy.It was about compressing music into a ball and then bouncing it.Manners is about unraveling that ball to see what it’s made of.
When I first heard Passion Pit last year, I couldn’t believe my ears.I described them to a friend as “everything I like about music in a single band”.I tried to compare them to other artists, and failed miserably – the best I could do was “Hot Chip meets Dan Deacon meets Animal Collective meets Jackson 5”.Yep, that’s about as well as they can be summed up; unique, to say the least.
Unique, however, is not always a positive modifier, despite my own predilections.A few weeks ago I played Passion Pit’s standout hit “Sleepyhead” for a friend, hoping to induce a similar euphoria to the one I experienced the first time it rocked my eardrums.His response: “What’s wrong with the dude’s voice?”I can’t really blame him.
Because you can’t talk about Passion Pit without mentioning Michael Angelakos, and you can’t really talk about Angelakos without talking about his voice.It’s high pitched and occasionally distracting.It’s also the backbone of the band.To those who would argue Angelakos’ pipes are a detriment to a good band, I’d invite you to check out Bob Dylan, Dirty Projectors, White Stripes, Mountain Goats and other amazing bands that capitalize on their off-beat leads.
It definitely sounds like the Angelakos inhaled a bunch of helium before laying down the tracks on Manners.Fittingly, though, it often sounds like the synths inhaled some of the same supply – Passion Pit captures a raw energy and enthusiasm by taking good music and keying it up to make it great.When tracks on Manners really keep up this emotion, like a record spun at too high a speed, they shine.Elsewhere, however, the album feels…well…measured.Restrained.Angelakos’ chords are tearing at whatever’s binding him, but aren’t quite strong enough.Songs like “Eyes As Candles” seem begging to bump the tempo up a notch and really rip.Instead they pace along, enjoyable but not joyful.
That being said, the album’s first four tracks are as good as any album released in the past year.Opener “Make Light” shows a familiar side of the band - a steady drumbeat, ebullient falsetto, big hits and scaling synths.It’s a welcome intro that assures fans that some things aren’t going to change.(And, sidenote, in concert it melts faces).“Little Secrets”, the album’s second track, starts off in a similar vein, shaking up the same ingredients, changing melodies and adding a chorus of New York Public School kids to give it a bigger feeling.It’s catchy and the chorus works well to differentiate it from Passion Pit jams past.At the end of track two, though, it’s tough not to have a fleeting thought – there are 11 tracks of this?
Then “Moth’s Wings” comes on.The song develops gradually, which is a new maneuver for Passion Pit.Rather than bursting out of the gate a full speed, the track starts slowly, building bit by bit in both speed and volume until it reaches its destination solidly in the center of your skull.It is Passion Pit at their most lush, slowed but still passionate (yes, passionate).Although it may not be as catchy as “Sleepyhead”, “Moth’s Wings” shows more promise.It suggests that Passion Pit can exist without falsettos and bouncy synths.That they could be more than a musical fad.That this band could actually make it.
Whatever that means.
After “Moth’s Wings” it’s back to synthy deliciousness on “The Reeling”, a song which makes a lot more sense in the context of Manners than it did when it hit HypeMachine on its own a couple months back. The stuttering beginning grabs your attention back from the daze you drifted off into so that the drums can get you bouncing again.“The Reeling” closes the four-song opener well, and finishes setting the tone for the whole album.
The rest of the album is good, if not particularly mind-blowing.The tracks are pleasant and grow on you with every listen, but aren’t the type of songs you’d write home about.There are bits and pieces that stick – a riff here, a lyric there – but the songs on the whole are fairly standard Passion Pit fare.
In fact, that sentiment can be applied to the entire album.Manners is a good album, bordering on great.But it’s mainly great because of what it leaves unsaid, hinting toward the future.Chunk of Change had an urgent cause; it needed to snap fingers in faces to get attention for a band that desperately deserves it.Manners is consciously more tempered.We’ve asked Passion Pit to come to dinner and they’re in no hurry to give it all away on the first date.
Manners is a compilation of possible beginnings – Passion Pit’s next album could be full of breakbeats and synths (“Make Light”), full of lush layers (“Moth’s Wings”), full of contemporary Beach Boys (“Let Your Love Grow Tail”), or full of hipster lullabies (“Swimming In The Flood”).All of those styles are on display here, and they all hold up pretty darn well.Consequently, Manners is simultaneously cohesive, disjointed, and utterly listenable.It suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, but in the same way that a toddler might, trying to find where exactly the boundaries are.
Listening to Manners is a bit like watching a child’s first steps – the band holds itself up, smiling the whole time, but Passion Pit still has some learning to do before they can really run.Still, these are confident first strides, and I’m excited to see where they’re headed.
You've been listening to the album for days and now you've read our review — what are your thoughts on the album? On Passion Pit in general?
Chris Barth writes a weekly Thinking Man feature here at Pretty Much Amazing and now he's trying to review albums. You can read his more succinct daily entries at his blog, The Stu Reid Experiment.
To enter to win a copy of Passion Pit's Manners, leave a comment with your thoughts on the album. Make sure you leave your name/email address in the provided fields! Entries will be accepted until May 20th