Last summer, Passion Pit’s "Sleepyhead" was the epitome of pop bliss, a lovely little gem to throw on the stereo knowing that anyone who hadn’t heard it before would love it, and anyone who already had would nod appreciatively. It wasn’t revolutionary in any respect, but it was stuffed full with delicious hooks and slabs of melody, delivered with an earnestness that was hard to find fault with. It was as if Michael Angelakos knew every pleasure a pop song could provide and was just thrilled to shove it all into one glorious single.
One summer later, Passion Pit has grown from an increasingly hyped element of Boston’s local scene, riding an EP that was essentially a solo recording, into a minor sensation in the nationwide indie landscape as a full band -- and they’ve done so primarily on the strength of that one single, which is featured on both that debut EP and Manners, their first full-length. Before we go any further, let’s make it clear: "Sleepyhead" is the strongest track on Manners, despite a slightly altered mix that comes off almost anemic in comparison to the earlier EP version. Which isn’t to say that the rest of the album is categorically bad, just that the whole album is unavoidably framed in reference to that one track.
And so, it’s not surprising that Passion Pit spends the rest of the album playing out variations on the elements of "Sleepyhead" within the context of their newly expanded lineup. Lead single "The Reeling" makes judicious use of the sorts of squealing synth leads and relentlessly hooky falsetto vocals that "Sleepyhead" relied upon, but it gives them a bit more space to breath in, interspersing them between faux horn hits and a full-band breakdown. This focus on giving each part its own space rather than cramming them all into one moment is typical for the album as a whole, which spreads out its pleasures rather than concentrates them into concise bursts. Consequently, songs like "The Reeling" have a looser, more relaxed feel to them, while still maintaining enthusiasm and a tumbling, one-after-another melodic style that previously served the group so well.
Passion Pit also take advantage of their increased access to new musical toys, providing variations to their sound and stuffing Manners with endless keyboards and studio effects. This exploration coincides with the band's aim to be as over-the-top as possible. On most tracks, the band manages to pull this off admirably while avoiding falling into self-parody, despite the regrettable and inexcusable decision to include a children’s choir on a number of tracks. It’s something of a testament to the strength and likability of "Little Secrets" that it can sustain a crowd of children chanting "higher and higher" during its chorus without collapsing. This tendency to shoot for the maximum level of emotive earnest likely informs the band’s experiments with placing "Sleepyhead"’s lovesick electro into slow-burning almost-ballads. The results include both the pleasantly endearing ache of "Moth’s Wings" and a couple of songs that plod on endlessly, evoking ’80s soundtracks minus the silly fun.
On the whole, Manners mostly evens out into a consistently listenable experience, the joy of one absurdly successful track spread out in variations and reformulations across the entirety of an album with inevitable dilution in the process. The album confirms that Passion Pit works as well as a group as it did as a solo project, but they’ve yet to sustain a high. Sure, it seems vaguely wrong and somewhat dismissive to review an entire album within the context of one track -- whose best version isn’t even on the album -- but in addition to being both the one track on Manners not played by a full band and the reason blogs and listeners cared about this band enough to push them to where they are, it is also the point in which all of the band’s aesthetic impulses convene upon single moments, the pleasures of the entire album condensed into a lovely little ditty.
1. Make Light
2. Little Secrets
3. Moth’s Wings
4. The Reeling
5. Eyes as Candles
6. Swimming in the Flood
7. Folds in Your Hands
8. To Kingdom Come
10. Let Your Love Grow Tall
11. Seaweed Song