The only reason a review of Passion Pit’s first and new LP is acceptable this late in May is because the Fog has never purported to be a music blog. It’s true that the official May 18th release of the Boston based synth-pop group has been greatly overshadowed by weeks of anticipation on music blogs around the web, but the tangible release of this album is still a call for celebration as the album is a celebration in itself. Not the kind of party your girlfriend promises will be more fun than the guys-night-out you just turned down… or the party where you were the only one who dressed in business-casual instead of just business. Nope, this album is a celebration of the most primal and raw kind. It won’t take long upon listening to understand what I’m talking about. The challenge of not dancing is something few albums present these days. Even fewer albums present the challenge of not dancing upon listen after listen after listen. Manners will give you every reason to dance, sing, shout, and gyrate in a way that will make you stop and say, “Wait… who are these guys?” as you put “Little Secrets” on repeat wherever you are at the moment.
For the most part, Passion Pit are newcomers to the independent music scene; something that makes the album that much more enjoyable. The excitement of feeling a part of something new and untainted by the digital download wasteland of big record companies but not so over-saturated by blogs that your emo cousin had the band’s t-shirt before their EP even dropped (Editor’s note: I hate Steve’s emo cousin.) is a highly pleasurable blend for a new act these days. Aside from being picked up as an act to beat in 2008’s CMJ Marathon, Passion Pit is about as fresh as it gets. With the release of their Chunk of Change EP last fall and the rise of “Sleepyhead” on indie blogs and iTunes last winter, Passion Pit have slowly been creeping into the consciousness of a nation desperate for new and infections melodies that you can claim you heard before any of your friends.
It was of the opinion of this writer several weeks ago that “Sleepyhead”, with its Cam’ron style child-singing and huge synth lines, was going to be somewhat of a fluke for the band. My expectations of the Pit’s full length release were something short of high. Case and point, not ordering a ticket to the PP/Harlem Shakes throwdown this Friday night at the Echoplex in LA as soon as they went on sale for a mere $12. Average after market ticket price for this show now: between $50-100. And then I got a chance to buy Manners on Lala and my world began to change. The California sunshine seemed just a little bit brighter. My cheaply made grilled cheese sandwich seemed to taste a tad bit cheesier. And as the melodies of the songs echoed in my head, strangers on the street seemed a little more friendlier. Were these mere coincidences, or has Passion Pit released an album void of the typical pretension that comes with the average over-hyped indie record? Is it possible for a fairly unknown band to release an album full of life, love, and synthesizers with the confidence of a much more experienced group?
After countless listens, I am almost 100% positive that they have achieved just that. From the opening number “Make Light” and its melting falsetto vocals over surprisingly empty, rhythm section driven verses down to the blissfully simple 90’s alt-rock guitar riffs flowing under the dueling vocal/synthesizer parts of the melancholy gem (and my personal favorite) “To Kingdom Come,” Passion Pit has produced a freshman album with the maturity and wit of a seasoned sophomore follow up. All the classic sophomore production techniques are here: horn section arrangements, epic and sweeping excercises in Bowie space rock (see “Moth’s Wings”), and nostalgia tinged lyrics of the love once lost on their first headling tour. Yet none of these elements feeled forced or dishonest like so many others who have tried the same before them. They have only just embarked on their first headling tour and only begun to capture the minds of fans using their synthesizers like 80s synth-pop tractor beams (see “Eyes As Candles”). I have no doubts that Passion Pit will ride quite high on the wings of this release. It begs the listener for nothing, offering instantly memorizable melodies and lyrics without expecting anything in return. They have crafted a beautifully happy sonic experience in a brutally depressing time period in our history. I encourage you to listen to the underlying message of the album as soon as possible: put it in, turn it up, and forget the troubles of a nation in crisis, if only for the 45 minutes it takes to enjoy it.