Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)
Boston electro-pop stars Passion Pit release their much-anticipated debut LP, Manners, today. And I despite myself, I like it a lot.
For a while, I've wondered why I prefer acts like Passion Pit and MGMT to so many of their more musically sophisticated peers (e.g. Cut Copy). There's so much I should hate about Passion Pit's hyper-poppy electronic dance music, from the cheesy, dated synth effects to the over-the-top pop cliches all over the melody. But truthfully, I enjoy it.
Now, let's get this out of the way. Passion Pit is primarily the project of one Michael Angelakos, who is something like 21 years old (maybe 22 now?). And his lyrics sound like they were written by a 21-year-old, at best. They are cramped with dime-a-dozen infantile "insights." But this is dance-pop and who listens to the words anyway? There's enough music going on that it's not hard to ignore the lyrics, and I highly recommend that you do so.
In terms of the music, however, Angelakos nails it. Yes, pop music is formulaic, but it isn't easy to get the formula this right, this much of the time. The first three tracks on the album are all bombshells, from the writ-large opening notes of "Make Light," to the children's chorus back-up vocals on "Little Secrets" and the tight layers of "Moth Wings." Even the slightly wince-inducing 80's dance beats are pulled off surprisingly well, probably because Manners doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is - a self-indulgent, artless, hook-centered pop album. (Or if it is pretending to be anything else, it's failed badly enough that it doesn't matter.)
The album does make some missteps. The first biggie is track four, "The Reeling," which falls on the wrong side of that narrow line between irresistible pop and vile top-forty-esque banality. Occasionally, the meritless lyrics also become too audible and too sophomoric to completely tune out (Exhibit A: "Swimming in the Flood," starting with the title itself). It also ends on a surprisingly weak note, "Seaweed Song," which fluctuates between annoying and unremarkable.
Still, the album's strengths compensate plenty. Most notably, the arrangements are nothing short of brilliant. The music never sits still, as layers pop in and out and vocal tracks play off one another without a moment's pause. The hooks and melodies are also exceptionally good - simple and formulaic, sure, but also irresistible. Of course, the album's break-through track "Sleepyhead" remains a strong point, but similarly strong synth riffs, unabashed high-range vocals and thoughtful composition are matched by plenty more.
This may be an album to buy tracks from online, rather than paying for the whole thing. But I'd definitely recommend you get your hands on some of it. You know what? It's called "pop" for a reason! People like it. And I'm one of those people. Anyone got a problem with that?