Dance music is the new indie rock. With Hot Chip, Justice and MGMT dominating indie playlists, it would appear that all the skinny boys are putting down their acoustic guitars in favor of synthesizers (Trend alert!). One of the nagging feelings about Boston’s Passion Pit is that they sound dangerously close to being an emo band that picked up a Daft Punk record instead of Sunny Day Real Estate. Passion Pit doesn’t have the effortless affectation that bands like Hot Chip (nerd chic), Justice (French!) or Junior Boys (electro permafrost) have that allow them to create dance music with a twinge of irony and still make it, for lack of a better word, cool. No, Passion Pit comes at you with full force: keyboards blazing and multi-tracked falsettos; subtlety is not the name of the game here. Yet like MGMT (whom they are oft compared to), Passion Pit manages to make these characteristics work in their favor.
Manners comes on the heels of the much blogged about Chunk of Change EP, with the cute story of being a gift for lead Pit, Michael Angelakos’ girlfriend. While Chunk of Change was essentially a one-man-band operation, the Passion Pit on Manners is a full-blown band, a band riding a wave of Internet-induced hype. When Chunk of Change was released last summer, “Sleepyhead” single-handedly propelled the EP to buzz worthy status. A dizzying spectacle of a single with sped-up soul samples and hooky falsettos, a cross of Animal Collective’s “Summertime Clothes” and MGMT’s “Kids,” “Sleepyhead” makes reappearance on Manners and is easily the best song on the album. It’s not hard to see why “Sleepyhead” caught the ears of so many hungry music bloggers: it’s infectious, blissfully melodic and perfectly brash.
The thing about Manners is that it’s an album that lives in the shadow of a too-perfect single. “Sleepyhead” is the only holdover from Chunk of Change, the rest of the album expanding on what “Sleepyhead” promised, and while it doesn’t quite reach the same heights, Manners spins off one infectious tune after another. Album opener “Make Light” kicks things off with crashes of synths and Angelekos’ Jeremy Enigk-on-helium voice squeals lyrics like “So I try, and I scream and I beg and I sigh/ just to prove that I’m alive.” These lyrics tread the line of Panic! At the Disco-style emo and it’s part of the reason why “Make Light” just misses the mark. Better is “Little Secrets” which utilizes a kids’ choir to giddy effect. Angelekos is jovial and nearly breathless in the chorus, throwing his all into the song. This full-bodied investment in the music is evident in every song, as each member holds nothing back; each song coming at you with the fullest force possible.
The closest to “Sleepyhead” heights comes in “Moth’s Wings” and “The Reeling.” Coming back to back, these songs are breezy and beautiful testaments to Passion Pit’s promise and talent. “Moth’s Wings” is swooningly romantic with dramatic Psychedelic Furs-style keyboards and makes for a perfect first kiss soundtrack (see also: “Eyes As Candles”). The song ebbs and flows to soaring synths and like M83’s Saturdays=Youth, mines the very best of ’80s new romanticism. “The Reeling” similarly treads those territories, aping OMD instead of Psychedelic Furs. Enthusiastic, though less frenetic than other songs, “The Reeling” makes the best use of Passion Pit’s signature use of tumbling into each other melodies. What makes songs like “Moth’s Wings,” “The Reeling” and “Sleepyhead” so damn successful is that they come with a looser, more relaxed approach. The strain of trying so hard isn’t evident in those songs as they are with songs like “Make Light” or “Folds in Your Hands.” Instead, these songs are allowed to breathe and take shape.
Manners is an album of easy, danceable indie pop songs with songs that sparkle and shimmer with layers of synths. Passion Pit do their best to follow up a truly great single, and while some songs have a familiar smell of playing catch-up, the best songs shed those earnest efforts and reach blissful heights that make you forgive some of the awkward missteps. There are more successes than mistakes here and Angelekos’ gift for oblique yet aching lyrics are likely to be touchstones for awkward teens everywhere.