Clash cover stars' fantastic debut...


In a way, Passion Pit’s debut album begins not with its first song, the effervescent ‘Make Light’, but with one buried at track nine. ‘Sleepyhead’, said offering, acts as both bridge and tunnel: a towering link to the past, almost ostentatious in its meticulous brilliance, and an invitingly dark passage to a future yet to be written.

The track is the sole survivor from this album’s preceding release, the ‘Chunk Of Change’ EP. It’s been given a polish, but the song is essentially the same piece that stood out on the six-tracker when its reception triggered no little spouting of hyperbole, kicking up a cloud of buzz that shielded this album’s development ‘til the time was right. Ubiquitous ones to watch, Passion Pit have kept their cards close ever since the turn-of-year silly season reached fever pitch – others have gone giddy through the purveyance of purple prose, but the band – and particularly lynchpin Michael Angelakos – has remained calm, collected, confident that their music will do all the necessary talking.

So it’s almost disappointing that ‘Sleepyhead’ appears, before it’s heard in the context of the full ‘Manners’ experience. Penned over two years ago, the track, while undoubtedly its makers’ best-known song to date, seems to have little place in the next phase of Passion Pit’s musical evolution: no longer Angelakos and a laptop, the band numbers five in total, and is an accomplished live ensemble to boot. But the inclusion’s wise – an echo from the past finding itself enhanced in the present, and sitting pretty in a sequencing pattern that sees Passion Pit glide from boisterous synth-pop, through epic sing-along indie anthems to be, arriving at the most tender ballads you’ll hear this side of a gooey Valentine’s compilation. ‘Sleepyhead’ warrants full-album reprising, and you can hear that its glitch-riddled frame has acted as a blueprint for a handful of other arrangements here.

At its most adventurous, ‘Manners’ sounds like little else – a pop record that exists in a world of its own, carving a sub-genre niche which only fits their expansive, tonally decadent material. Take ‘Fold In Your Hands’ – there’s such a great deal going on in the one track that, on headphones, it’s a dizzying listen, as layers peel away one after the next, all the while revealing new textures from below. ‘The Reeling’ stutters into life, a ‘60s supercomputer whirring itself into a frenzy, before ‘80s synthesizers arrive on the scene and everything turns several shades of 808 as organic percussion is aided and abetted by throbbing beats born of circuit boards and semiconductors. The former glistens with a neon shimmer, the latter glows red with off-the-dial feverishness; both combine elements of the purest pop with compositional playfulness which embraces a broken-and-bandaged aesthetic, as glitches ride high in the mix, encouraging the cadence of what ripples about them.

These songs play out with a feel similar to ‘Sleepyhead’ – each possessed by an iridescent spirit of invention that elevates them above the standard pop pack, those who go only so far to crafting their own sound before accepting compromise and chasing elusive fortunes. Even allowing for the stylistic shifts that alter the flow of ‘Manners’, Passion Pit sound remarkably complete for a band releasing their debut album, much in the same way that recent long-play releases by MGMT and Empire Of The Sun have suggested their makers are no wet-behind-the-ears sorts finding their feet in this business. Angelakos is a songwriter with music in his blood, and these outpourings are suitably blessed with the sort of sincerity that money can’t buy with studio wizardry, marketing campaigns and advertisement placements. His early efforts, which reached a public-eye (ear?) zenith with ‘Chunk Of Change’, can be seen (heard?) as vital steps towards emerging now as a band with no further growth necessary. Any further progression will be sideways rather than forward, optional over obligatory, as ability enough is perfectly evident throughout ‘Manners’.

When not sending toe tips into spasms of appreciation, ‘Manners’ aims for the heart with a clutch of torch songs for a modernity obsessed with the promotion of the self – we no longer reach out to communicate, doing much of our ‘talking’ via silent computer terminals. The overall atmosphere of this album – one where technology plays a vital role, but is never allowed to overpower the human at the heart of the process – is conducive to reflection, prompting the mind to wander, and wonder: really shouldn’t we all get out a little more and celebrate the simple joys around us? ‘To Kingdom Come’ has an almost childish joyousness to it, Angelakos’ emoting hitting exuberant highs; ‘Let Your Love Grow Tall’ even has kids on it, singing the title right back at the band as if to say: yes, let yourself go, this once… feel the rush of the wind against your face, the ground fall away as you take the leap…

…Into the unknown, the mysterious and enticing shade that masks a beyond ripe for discovery, just waiting to be explored. ‘Manners’ sets its makers in good stead to do, essentially, whatever they want next, as ‘the classic’ may well be sewn up. So long as they’re having fun, Passion Pit can do no wrong, and where this album begins it also ends: with fond familiarity pointing the way towards tomorrow. ‘Sleepyhead’ might be the way in for many, but the exit’s not likely to present itself any time soon.

9/10

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Read our full Passion Pit interview in issue 37 of Clash magazine - click HERE for details.

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