In the fall of 2007 Brooklyn-natives were privy to the exciting new synth-filled sounds of the duo now known as MGMT. The Management, as they were then known, were so unabashedly open about their hipsterness that they quickly began to fill the void that the Steve Aokis and Ed Bangers were losing ability to (because of their newly found mass appeal). MGMT found its way into obscurest playlists, 2007 year-end lists, every festival on the face of the planet and lemon-flavored-soda commercials, all within months. By the time their debut album Oracular Spectacular actually came out in 2008, it was already being given the “2000 and late” seal by hip youth-gangs who were “into them last year”.
In early 2008 word started spreading like wildfire that the year’s best album had already arrived in Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut. Music blogs, including our very own, all lit up with excitement about the fresh afro-boho-indie-pop-rock from 4 kids pretentious enough to make any prep-schooler feel like they went to Boston Public and kicked it with the hard knocks – it was just so smashingly original. The tremendous hype was followed quite closely by a backlash strong enough to make it fetch, much like in MGMT’s case, to dislike VW before their album actually came out just weeks later. As this backlash was given time to marinate in music consumers’ minds for months, it was now only socially acceptable to like Vampire Weekend as a guilty pleasure – like these guys were a post-sex tape R. Kelly or something – which resulted in an otherwise great album being left off many year-end best lists, ours notwithstanding.
This brings me to our latest potential victims. Since sometime last Fall, the blogosphere has been atweet about Passion Pit, mostly because of the infectious single ‘Sleepyhead’ off their debut, dorm room-recorded EP, Chunk of Change. Originally recorded by Michael Angelakos as a Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend, the disc made its way around the Emerson College campus pretty quickly. Soon enough, Passion Pit had landed a record deal at Frenchkiss, a spot in several “bands to watch” lists in respected publications, and a track feature on a MTV show soundtrack and in an electronics commercial. Since then, they’ve readied their full-length debut, Manners.
On paper, everything about these guys says that they should be the next MGMT or Vampire Weekend, in that they’ll be built-up by critical media and then shot down faster than Pac. Let’s take a look at the checklist.
|–||Formed at elite liberal arts college in Boston|
|–||Origin story charming enough to make any Hannah Mon-tweena blurt out an “awww cute”|
|–||Universally appealing buzz single|
|–||Made at least 5 “band to watch” lists in the year prior to their debut’s release|
|–||Featured in commercial as part of an aging Sony ad exec’s quest to stay hip|
|–||Upcoming feature on a fucking Josh “I popularized indie … on The OC” Schwartz show|
|–||Solid debut album|
More on that last check now. The nicest thing about Passion Pit’s debut, Manners, is that they’ve managed to put together a completely decent 11 track, 45 minute long, album. It’s concise, breezy, light and has enough tonal variety to make a great counterpart to your forming Summer playlists. Every song features Angelakos singing in falsetto sounding much like a hybrid of Adam Lambert and Justin Timberlake on helium. They sample here and there, a process mixed in by synth-master Ayad Al Adhamy, featuring puzzling and obscure choices such as nods to classical Irish harpist Mary O’Hara. It all works though and the band’s sound has grown leaps and bounds from their original, but modest sounding, debut EP.
Live drums, organs, layered synths and a sax, help songs like ‘Make Light’, ‘Little Secrets’, ‘The Reeling’, and ‘Eyes As Candles’, soar in moments where they otherwise, could have fallen flat. Probably the most refreshing addition to the band’s sound is the peewee choir of kids on a handful of the songs in the first half of the album, which add a fitting but contrasting layer of hope and carefreeness to each of these tracks and harmonize really well with Angelakos’ pre-pubescent falsetto.
This being said, I’ll concede that nothing Passion Pit does on Manners is wholly original, and in some cases is blatantly biting more successful predecessors. Whether it’s the children’s choir, an idea repopularized by Justice on ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ and Peter Bjorn and John, or the layered synths, repopularized by about half the albums that have dropped since Hot Fuss, or the obscure sampling for dance tracks done with most success in recent memory by The Avalanches on ‘Since I Left You’. This being said, Passion Pit is repatriating a lot of the effects and sounds that were originally developed in the land of crimson and navy, and melding all these sounds in a unique and accessible way.
An article on Pitchfork reviewing the single ‘The Reeling’ challenged the band to out-do MGMT in their failings to deliver an album with more substance than 3 to 4 good singles. With Manners, these guys have definitely risen to the challenge, chock-full of singles, my favorites being ‘Eyes Like Candles’, ‘Little Secrets’, ‘Moth’s Wings’, ‘Let Your Love Grow Tall’ and of course ‘Sleepyhead’.
I like this band, I really do. And I like Manners. Please, oh please, tweeps, bloggers, Brooklyners, music snobs and critical-media, leave them be as they work their way out of your hearts and into every frat boy’s Summer of ‘09 “Xtreme Soundtrack”. Let them record again, and let us remember what it’s like to judge a band on their ability to tour a debut album, struggle with finding a new direction and maybe even dodge the Sophomore-slump.