In my favorite scene from the first season of 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan) pitches a new product (The Tracy Jordan Meat Machine) to his boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). After Jack approves of Tracy’s product and agrees for a GE subsidiary to manufacture it, Tracy says to Jack, “Jack Donaghy, you are the best. I’m gonna make you a mixtape. Do you like Phil Collins?”
“I have two ears and a heart, don’t I?” Jack responds.
And damned if I can’t think of a better way to describe the allure of Passion Pit’s great debut album, Manners. It’s the kind of record that speaks to your ears and connects with your heart. It’s the kind of record that doesn’t represent a type of music (they do unapologetic, catchy electro-pop, for your information) but feelings. It’s for good times. It’s for shit times. And while it’s not the best album I’ve heard this year, it’s the one I’ve listened to the most.
I’m now contractually obligated to discuss Passion Pit’s back story, which rates higher than them meeting at an East Coast liberal arts college (MGMT) but below being the kids of evangelicals (Black Kids and Kings of Leon). See, Passion Pit were started after lead singer Michael Angelakos’ first EP of synth-pop ditties, Chunk of Change, started catching hype. That reads like the ride to fame for every popular New York rock band since the Strokes, except that Chunk of Change was made as a late Valentine’s Day gift for Angelakos’ girlfriend, not as a teaser for major labels courting the band. Passion Pit are not even remotely interested in projecting New York cool; they just want to make music about their love lives.
Of course, none of that means much re: Manners, except that while Chunk of Change sounded like a lovelorn dude making songs in his bedroom (because it was), Manners sounds like a bunch of heart-on-sleeve types getting together in a studio to make 11 catchy singles and somehow coming out with an album. Manners is more organic compared to the EP thanks to the addition of live bassist and drummer; where there used to be frigid, unmoving beats, there is a looseness and the threat that everything might come crashing down.
Manners is rife with big, splashy moments, starting with the jovial kid chorus on “Little Secrets,” continuing with the soulful breakdowns on “Swimming in the Flood” and the dance-break on “Folds in Your Hands” and culminating in the ecstatic rush of the final minute of album closer “Seaweed Song.” Picking just one highlight is a fool’s errand, but the ever-climbing “Moth’s Wings” and the outlier of broken indie-pop that is “Sleepyhead” represent the ends of Manners’ narrow indie-pop spectrum.
And while it may seem like something of a slight to say that the band’s songs sound very similar, Passion Put change the scope of Manners enough that the soft indie-pop never seems old. Sometimes the choruses are blown-out and sound like the work of an army (“Eyes as Candles”), and other times they seem sung like someone walking the street late at night (“Swimming in the Flood”). Sometimes the synths are tuned to “dancy” (“The Reeling”), and sometimes they’re tuned to introspection (“To Kingdom Come”).
Lyrically, Manners is somewhat oblique (compared to Chunk of Change, almost any album would be), but it’s always clear Angelakos is singing about something. And that something is often lost love, lost connections, and feeling overwhelmed. There’s a lot to be said about Manners’ catchy music being able to transcend the band’s indie start, but it’s likely that Angelakos’ universal lyrics will be able to help that endeavor as well. There’s songs about drowning in feelings (“Swimming in the Flood”), trying to get a friend out of a tough time (“Moth’s Wings”), or thinking about fire burning your eyes while laying in bed (“Sleepyhead”)? Angelakos’ voice might lean heavily toward the idiosyncratic, but if you’re willing to accept it in all its falsetto-ed glory, no record will open itself up to you quite like Manners.
At this point I could keep blabbering on about how Manners, not Merriweather Post Pavilion or Veckatimest, is going to be the indie-rock album you’ll be sick of hearing about ad nauseum by this time next year (like MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular last year), or how this is the most consistent album I’ve heard all year. But all I know for sure is that I’ve got two ears and a heart, and Manners sounds and feels pretty great.
Passion Pit are the latest band to rise on the back of a rare CD-R from blog curio to potential magazine covers with albums out on a major label. The Boston band formed as a way for lead singer Michael Angelakos to finish an EP he was writing for his girlfriend for Valentine's Day, and that album eventually got picked up and released by Frenchkiss. The EP, Chunk of Change, led to Passion Pit signing with Columbia in the U.K., and an expanded studio budget for Manners, their full-length debut. Like many blog-hype bands before them, the record deal allows them to expand their sonic palette to sound like something more than a bedroom project. First single "The Reeling" proves that the band can expand their sound, albeit with sometime mixed results.
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