Passion Pit: Manners

Score one for internet hype. Steeped in the tension of economic hardship and transition, but loaded with an undeniable resilience and infectious joy, Manners is a brilliantly timely and lasting electro-pop record.

Passion Pit


US Release: 2009-05-19
Label: Frenchkiss
UK Release: Available as import
Artist Website
Label Website

Now that internet buzz has made a shift from passing phase to frontline for music promotion and criticism, it feels right when a band like Passion Pit gets caught in that whirlwind. Because despite its strength, the internet is still a young music forum, and all too often how artists receive that buzz relies far too much on the hyper trying to play tastemaker instead of on the merits of the hyped music itself.

But even before their debut EP, Chunk of Change, Passion Pit was building up some serious heat. They had a compelling backstory -- that EP was recorded by frontman Michael Angelakos as a gift to his girlfriend -- and an infectious sound to hook you with. And, as it turns out, they have a lot of life in them. Chunk of Change may have hinted at the success to come for this band, but it didn't prepare us for the big, ambitious, bursting-at-the-seams electro-pop brilliance that is Manners. If the hype leading up to this release is any indication, the group could have the same huge following Postal Service had, and it would be much deserved.

Not that they sound anything like Postal Service, really. Like Ben Gibbard, Michal Angelakos doesn't mind wearing his schmaltzy, lovelorn heart on his sleeve. And while he might sound a little melodramatic, his singing always feels earnest. And, unlike Postal Service's cool metallic sound, Passion Pit plays like a band on fire, and their sound is all surging blood and frenzied joy, even when Angelakos sounds lost and lonely.

Much of the album is cluttered up and shimmering with synths and drums, but it steps outside of standard electro-pop sounds to up the energy on every track. "Make Light" is all swooping keys, but rests on a thick bed of guitar that sounds an awful lot like an echoed wall of notes via U2's the Edge. "Moth's Wings" starts with a proggy build-up of keys and guitars, before blooming with lush strings. "Sleepyhead" -- the only carry-over from Chunk of Change and a perfect fit on this album -- thumps grimily along, punctuated by sped-up soul samples and heavily-reverbed vocals.

Those are just some of the twists built into these songs, songs that refuse to stay still long enough for you to get a firm hold on them. Instead, these songs get a hold on you, swelling up and surrounding you with their sound, refusing to let you out. Even the unassuming plink and plunk of closer "Seaweed Song" eventually takes you over. It's the most stripped-down track on the album, but only by default. And it's drums still give the song a surging heart beat, and push the song to the breaking point whenever possible.

The band also seems to take advantage of their hometown sounds. Hailing from the Boston area -- home to more than a few big names in the world of grit-toothed, angular indie rock -- Passion Pit shares more than a passing resemblance to the tension built into that sound. Though they prefer synthesizers to crunchy guitars, those warm notes aren't always swelling with comfort. On songs like "Moth's Wings" and "The Reeling", the notes do stretch out, but they also back-up on each other in clustered bleats. The handclaps and high-hat work on "Folds in Your Hands" plays at a rocking breakout that the band holds off on until the last possible moment. And while the live drums and healthy bass built into these hugely infectious songs keeps the album's energy up, it's the bands ability to smartly deny us those elements in certain spots that keeps our ears pricked for the next surprise.

And if the music itself didn't pack enough joyful tension, Angelakos' vocals do plenty of work in that arena. His histrionic falsetto, delivered with full-throated enthusiasm at every moment, sounds so wide-open and honest, and comes with a heavy dose of stadium-rocking charm, that he never feels whiny even as he delves deep into his own heartache. And he also has a subtle range to his voice. Though most of his singing is overheated and damp with sweat, he slows it to a ghostly keen on "Moth's Wings" or high-register croon on "Eyes as Candles". And sometimes he goes ahead and overdoes it, singing until he's airless on the overblown verses of "Little Secrets". But it works because Angelakos never sounds like he's navel-gazing, because he mixes the heartworn words with the irrepressible joy he brings to performing. Even when his words breakdown into frustration -- "Have you ever felt so goddamn strong?/ How comes it takes some people so damn long," he shouts at one point -- you can still picture him dancing at the mic stand, letting the music take over even as his heart sinks.

To point out standout tracks on this album is kind of futile, because any one of these 11 tracks could be a single. They are all that infectious and that distinct from one another. And despite their love of synth-pop, Passion Pit never fall into the genre rut of channeling the '80s. "To Kingdom Come" is the closest they get to that territory, as it could fit nicely in a John Hughes soul-searching montage. But the sound fits the songs heartache and nostalgia, even if Angelakos is wistful over a time that never happened, namely the time where he and the person he's singing to were on the same page.

But that track aside, Manners is an album very much of its time. Steeped in the tense worry of economic hardship and transition, but loaded with an undeniable resilience, this album does what a lot of electro-pop does. It makes you want to dance, and it gets it hooks deep into, so much so that you might be humming the melodies to these songs mindlessly, before you even realize they're Passion Pit. But what makes it not just a great genre album, but a great album period, is its ability to make you feel what the band feels, to immerse you in sound and mood and energy and never let you come up for air during its 45-minute running time. In short, that internet buzz machine -- though still trying to shed its awkward infancy -- definitely knocked this pick out of the park.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.