Passion Pit, who hail from Boston in the US, are the brainchild of Michael Angelakos. Angelakos' critical acclaim started after the release of the 'Chunk Of Change EP' which he wrote and recorded as a belated valentine's gift for his girlfriend.
Review by Tim Sendra
Passion Pit's mode of operation on their debut album, Manners, appears to be to juxtapose the giddiest music possible with some truly dark and self-searching lyrics. It's a classic trick that will have you singing along happily to the sound of confusion, sadness, and the torment of one man's mind. You can dig below the sweet falsetto of vocalist/songwriter Michael Angelakos, the rollicking and joyful tunes, and the glittering, shiny surfaces that the group and producer Chris Zane painstakingly create and absorb the insights and feelings of Angelakos' words or not, because the record is satisfying either way -- especially if a record that combines Animal Collective's twee-est moments, Mercury Rev's most cotton-candied jams, the paisley-fied soul of Prince, and the synth pop hookiness of New Order sounds like a good idea to you. As if that weren't enough, they also bring '80s funk influences on the super catchy "Little Secrets" and a slick and pleasing '80s pop sound on a track like "To Kingdom Come" (which would have sounded perfect wedged between Peter Gabriel and INXS on a modern rock radio playlist back in 1986), and made sure to include the song from the previous EP that made people take notice of the band in the first place, the otherworldly "Sleepyhead." Add lots of glitch-pop sound manipulation for a modern sheen, live drums for a human heartbeat under all the Technicolor wall of sound, and a children's choir on a couple songs for extra innocence, and you have a record that could have been a total clustercrash of influences and sounds that ended up sounding hollow and pointless. Instead, thanks to the meticulous production values, the insane catchiness of the hooks, and the pure and true emotional underpinnings below all the gloss, the album is a total success of both sound and vision.
Even if the rock kids aren't doing the standing still as much these days, indie-friendly electro-pop bands are still liable to have their own backs against the wall-- Hot Chip with their Urkel affectations, Junior Boys' overriding permafrost, Cut Copy and their unflappable cool. Despite residing on the always trustworthy Frenchkiss, Passion Pit aren't cool. Their approach to danceable rock music is more Friday night than year-end-list. It's also distinctly, for a lack of a better term, American. It's extroverted, brash, and unconcerned with nuance, each synthesizer used for maximum melodic impact instead of texture. Most of the time, singer Michael Angelakos' half-eunuch/half-Jeremy Enigk voice is likely voicing some sort of commentary on his feelings. There's an almost archaic belief that a record should have at least four singles and the nagging feeling that Passion Pit could just be another garage/emo band that traded in their guitars for samplers. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, just about all of this works in Manners' favor, as it's the sort of heart-to-heart populist record that's every bit as sincere as it is infectious-- though Angelakos sings in a manner rarely heard outside of a shower with unpredictable temperature control, it feels symbolic of a band that's completely unashamed, not shameless, in its pursuit of a human connection.
It's easy to be skeptical. I understand. Passion Pit are, after all, following a buzzed-about EP, Chunk of Change, that attracted detractors and admirers in equal measure. The story of Manners, however, is how Passion Pit evolve from a one-man pet project to a fully fleshed concern that gives substance to Angelakos' melodic sensibilities over the course of more focused song lengths, more dynamic arrangements, and 40 minutes of joy-buzzer pushing.
Chunk of Change certainly had its rickety charms, but while "Make Light", "Moth's Wings", and "Eyes as Candles" retain the EP's building blocks-- glycemic keyboards, insistent major keys, and falsetto-- their compositional aspects go beyond what Passion Pit were capable of as a solo affair. "Make Light", despite working patiently towards a satisfying hook, would've likely plateaued during its midsection, but Nate Donmoyer's live drums keep it skidding perilously towards an organic collapse Chunk of Change never allowed. The elegiac tempos of "Moth's Wings" and "Eyes as Candles" veer closer to first-kiss soundtracking than even Chunk's mushier moments, but they're rendered fleshy with slowly blossoming arrangements of church choirs, saxophones, and a winding synth lead on the latter that catches you off-guard with its similarity to "Walk of Life".
Barely past drinking age, Passion Pit are obviously overjoyed with the studio as romper room, but the toy that has gotten the most attention is the kiddie choir that pops up on two of the first four songs. Call them behind-the-curve as they double up the "higher and higher" part of the chorus from "Little Secrets" (that's the one that sounds like "D.A.N.C.E.", Jarvis), but it's more over-the-top, and that's kind of the point-- in a weird way, it's heartening how little Passion Pit concerns themselves with decorum or trend-watching in the search of an irresistible hook. Manners does go for the quick knockout, pulling a similar trick five minutes later on the Hissing Fauna branch-off "The Reeling", and while Side B tends to delay gratification, Manners is deceptively consistent even beyond its singles-- if you like one Passion Pit song, you'll probably like them all. Or you might not like any at all-- though "Sleepyhead" has proven to be something of the consensus, its real-time chipmunk soul ambitions fitting in better on Manners than it did tacked as a transitional track at the end of Chunk of Change.
But as "Let Your Love Grow Tall" ushers in last call with a big ol' group hug, I realize how it puts me in a difficult position as a music critic: what happens when you're scrambling to think of why a record is worth hearing and you keep coming back to "it makes me happy"? Too often, we use a band's debut simply to conjure comparisons to other bands, but Manners is every bit as likely to bring to mind a successful night out with friends, or the party where you finally got to talk to that person you've been eying all semester. The video for "The Reeling" certainly helps with that visualization, but in a manner similar to layers of faux-flesh being peeled off Angelakos' face, the cracked-up lyrics themselves ache for some sort of connection after realizing the futility of physical and emotional bunkers. It's a fitting contrast for a record that's certainly not the most innovative or cred-boosting you'll hear this year, but quite possibly the one that most demands to be socialized with and is just so easy to love back.
— Ian Cohen, May 22, 2009