You’ll either love this album …
On the full-length debut Manners, Michael Angelakos appropriates and amplifies the elements that made Passion Pit’s Chunk of Change EP a success. He remains unabashedly loyal to his shrill voice, supplementing its high-pitched yelps with infectious pop hooks and relentless energy. Emerging last fall, Angelakos was just a sensitive northeastern frat-boy penning songs to his ex-girlfriend. The winter passes and he’s a boldly confident indie-star that records in fancy-studios with producer Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, The Walkmen), books back-up children’s choirs, and has the sessions covered by The FADER. Out of the dorm-room into the spotlight, indeed. “Look at me,” he declares on the Red Bull-infused lead single “The Reeling”. It’s vigor sets a precedent: Chunk of Change was meant for his girlfriend’s bedroom and Manners is meant for Times Square. “The Reeling” is an attention-grabbing (“here I am! Won’t someone understand?”) and self-absorbed affair, but one that is utterly awesome. As badly as I want to roll my eyes when he mutters something about his “confounding destiny,” the all-encompassing chorus immediately trumps my cynicism.
Though bigger is definitely the operative word in describing the shift from EP to LP for Passion Pit, his girlfriend remains a dominating topic. Themes of partnership and loyalty permeate Manners as he toys with grand language and convoluted metaphors. On “Little Secrets”, he talks about “outlining wet sidewalks in halogen” before the chorus’ proclamation: “no one needs to know we’re feeling higher and higher!” “Eyes As Candles” comes off as a total love anthem while the sing-a-long “na na na” chorus epitomizes his pop sensibilities. In other cases, it seems he’s just trying to come to grips with his new attention (“my world astir and sickly”).
The seamless flow between tracks is a product of Zane’s experience and grants Manners a strong cohesion. The songs converse with one another and ultimately make Manners sound like the product of a full band realizing their own sound.
Or you’ll hate it …
Michael Angelakos’ shrill falsetto rambles worse than before. Firstly, he sings without direction or care. The helium-sucked screams on tracks like “To Kingdom Come” and “Little Secrets” aggravate more than appeal. Secondly, his saccharine lyrics reek of vague generalities and vacuous moralizing. “So I try and I scream and I beg and I sigh just to prove I’m alive,” sings Angelakos on “Make Light”. The rest of the album is plagued in Angelakos’ self-absorbed pontifications of his purpose on this world: “everyday I lie awake and pray to God today’s the day.” Frankly, it’s hard to ever know what he’s talking about. (See: “that’s a frosty way to speak/ to tell me how to live next to your potpourri.”) Without care for syntax, grammar or general sense, his words flail amongst a cacophony of Atari-like noises and cookie-cutter pop structures.
Album launch pad “Make Light” picks up right where we left off. Angelakos shrieks unintelligible nothings like a prepubescent girl in the back seat of a long car ride. It’s truly cringe-worthy to hear Angelakos emulate Jackson 5 and belt out, “let this be our little secret/ no one needs to know we’re feeling/ higher and higher!” And Sweet Moses, is there actually a song called “Let Your Love Grow Tall”? And did he actually just affix the lyric “tall as the grass in the meadow?” to the song title? Worst is Angelakos’ self-victimizing when he boldly claims he want to “make light of my treacherous life.” Cry me a thousand rivers. “We’re swimming in a flood, you know?” No, I don’t. Chunk of Change was characterized by charmingly saccharine devotion, but Manners is full of obtuse nothings without ever being poetic.
Angelakos is putting the cart before horse. This album defines his artistic persona: an uninhibited and anxious grandstander, not unlike Brendan Flowers or Adam Levine. This is fine, if you have the hype to justify it, but Passion Pit doesn’t. Manners only confirms that “Sleepyhead” is still the best track.