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Passion Pit's Manners: Trip[ing] back in time

Passion Pit's <i>Manners</i> cover

Let’s do the Time Warp.

Freshman year of college, my dorm room smells like Axe body spray, Old Spice, ramen noodles, cold pizza, and at least a smattering of skunked beer. I put on my “my first great indie discovery” and make out with my too-hot-for-me freshman girlfriend on a deceptively comfortable futon.

Junior year of High School I discover Crystal Method, Vegas and Dig your own Hole. I decide I am a raver and buy extremely embarrassing clothes from gadzooks. I become remarkably adept at spinning glowsticks (and fire!!) on the ends of shoelaces.

8th grade, I sit on the sidelines of every Middle School dance, mortified that my decision for 6 years to not wear jeans has destroyed any hope of normal friendships. I listen to something that just has to be Kylie Minogue or Britney Spears and wish for something I can’t name.

4-7 years old, I make sandcastles on the beach with friends, forts in my room, and run around “the back 40 [acres]” with Nerf and water guns, and it is awesome. There were also a lot of legos and (for some reason) Aerosmith involved.

All of these memories make me think of two things. 1.) Good lord did I have a product-placement ready youth, and 2.) Manners reminds me of all of them, in almost equal measure. There has always, from the first moment on Chunk of Change, been a childlike quality to Passion Pit’s music. It’s in that weird, pubescent(?) falsetto that controls the pace and feel of the songs. It’s also that voice that can pigeon-hole the band into “Dance” music. But more than that, there’s a playfulness, a bounciness that isn’t so much missing in other music like Passion Pit, but less pronounced. The pit seems to revel in that, and the image on the Chunk EP seems designed solely to support my idea of their ethos, a bunch of balls that make me think of nothing but Rugrats and the ball pits at McDonald’s and Chuck E. Cheese.

But, of course, there’s more. There’s a lot of depth to these songs, and they are songs. Whether you want to call this a dance or electronica album, Passion Pit writes songs, not symphonies or albums, and they’re all pretty darned good. There’s definitely a unity to everything on the album, and it has a pretty great flow to it. I’m reminded of the “mix-tape” philosophy: start with a big song, get bigger, then settle, let the rest crescendo back up to the first two songs. Passion Pit seem to have made this their thesis for the album, as the first two tracks: “Make Light” and “Little Secrets” are designed to both become singles and make you say/think “holy crap this is fun shit.”

Where Chunk was good, Manners is (almost always) better. The layers of synthesizers and electronic sounds are definitely reminiscent of TV on the Radio (and the album cover is a little too similar to Dear, Science) and the two groups share in being able to turn mixed feelings into exuberant, lively, fun tunes. “Let Your Love Grow Tall” stands out, as there’s something undeniably uplifting about the track, even if, “I’ve never lived without his sad and jealous eyes.” The whole track is more of the same, and it may well be the best on the album, but it’s also one of the sadder songs, it gives the feeling of standing by that punch bowl in 8th Grade, knowing you should be dancing and having a good time, but somehow not being able.

There are no bad songs on the whole album, though the closer, “Seaweed Song” fails to evoke much of anything, it’s a bit too sleepy after everything that came before. The rest of the albums range from good to totally excellent. “Sleepyhead” returns from the EP, and its ethereal, dreamlike quality still fits the band and the album as well as it did before. The operatic backing vocals are reminiscent of Bjork in her Medulla days, and the textures are excellently mixed; everything in the song waxes and wanes at just the right time. “To Kingdom Come,” is another of the best on the album, and it’s also the sunniest. Every layer worked in, from the (very welcome) horn section to the electronic beeps and acoustic guitar, serve to make this an uplifting track, and the lyrics, “But that’s the kind of state I’m in / Swimming in a pool of godly medicine,” juxtapose nicely with the apocalypse-referencing title.

“Let Your Love Grow Tall,” “Little Secrets,” and “The Reeling,” are all powerful as well, and not-so coincidentally, all three tracks feature background vocals by the choir of PS 22 (a K-5 inner-city public school for any Europeans reading), and their presence reinforces the child-like quality to music as well as the conflicted, but ultimately uplifting nature of most of the songs on the album. After all, these kids have it rough, but they’re making something beautiful. It would be poetic to say the same of Passion Pit themselves, but it would also be a lie. OK, they may have it a little tough being from America, but really, Passion Pit and Manners are in a perfect position to get on some Best of… lists, a lot of house party dance-floors, and maybe, maybe take over the world.

And then put in a big ball pit…Please

Check also Passion Pit on Myspace

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  1. nia

    wonderful write-up! and probably one of the best I’ve read so far. thanks 😉

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