And so from country, to indie-synth-electronica. This week’s subject Passion Pit was the first gig I ever went to (barring The Tweenies in Concert). I took the train to London with my friend and her older sister, pushed my way to the barrier and was actually a bit overcome with the power of live music. That’s really cheesy, but it’s true. If you’ve never heard of Passion Pit, it’s a band consisting solely of Michael Angelakos, but he’s joined by a band live and on the records. He’s American, and Wikipedia (my constant companion on this voyage of discovery) defines his music as ‘indietronica’. What that means, I’m not exactly sure, but it manifests itself in constant falsetto, lots of synthesizers, and syncopated drums. While their second album, Gossamer, is good, Manners is the band at its earliest, and best.
With Passion Pit, the main feeling I get is euphoria. They have huge, soaring choruses, almost more than any other band I listen to, and amazing build ups. Live, these were awesome (as in I was actually in awe), making it extremely easy as an audience member to get swept up in the joy. To this day, listening to the band’s 2009 record Manners, I get the same feeling. I still get excited by the build up, and do a mental air-punch when we finally reach that climactic point. Sometimes I have to admit that the constant high pitch of Angelakos’ voice (and the occasional lack of diction) can be a little grating, and often I sing along with noises rather than words. Still, this doesn’t detract from the feeling that a lot of work has gone into this music. There are lots of different layers and levels that are almostly perfectly compiled to create a sonic sound. I’ve found that it’s rare to find albums that seem to fill your ears, head and anywhere else it can reach, but Manners does it for me.
Lyrically, this is one of the more interesting albums covered in this column. There is a mix of the mundane and the symbolic; in To Kingdom Come, Angelakos sings, “in princely piles of orange peels/ It feels the way you you told me it’d always feel.” On the other hand, in Eyes as Candles, he asks: “Why do you always seem to need me when you’re fleeing?” This last lyric was the personal message of a friend on MSN (the same friend who took me to the gig with her), and I was secretly obsessed with it. It’s quite a devastating lyric, powerful in its simplicity, and yet this isn’t a soppy love song; it’s strong, it’s synth, it’s relatively upbeat. In a rare break from the falsetto, Eyes Of Candles gives the ears a break for a middle 8 or so, before going back to the auditory onslaught of the rest of the album. Back to great lyrics, Seaweed Song’s chorus is mainly one line: “Nobody knows you the way you know you, but I think I do. Well, I thought I knew.” Again simple but relatable, somewhat miserable, but undeniably catchy when sandwiched between the building drums and high pitched yell of “watch your body go.”
It would be rude to discuss this album and gloss over Sleepyhead. While this is probably the best known track from this record (even Ellie Goulding covered it), it’s one of the best. Here, the layers I mentioned earlier are out to play in full force. High pitched, highly manipulated soundbites are played over each other, but under Angelakos’ high vocals. From that in the verses, the drums starts to build, the backing track of strange voices builds and then falls until bam… The synthesisers come in just long enough for you to have a quick boogey before they cut out and we start again. What is he saying in this song? Without azlyrics I have little to no clue, but I know I like it. This, as well as my favourite, Moth’s Wings, capture the euphoria I referenced at the start. In the latter, the simple strings intro builds straight to powerful piano chords. In the chorus, these are added to layered vocals and building drums, and you feel as if something big is about to happen. I highly recommend this song for summer drives, although it does actually make me drive faster, so watch out for that.
Manners is an explosion of different ideas, soundbites, children’s choirs, instruments and styles which come together in a surprisingly cohesive package. If this gets a bit too much for you, the band have kindly supplied ‘stripped back’ versions of Sleepyhead and Moth’s Wings, which completely transform the songs, pulling attention to the greats riffs and lyrics you (meaning me) might have missed in all that excitement. For me, there’s something really exciting (even after all these years) about the “la la las” layered over “do do dos”, over drums, piano, synthesizers AND vocals. It’s chaotic, but in the best possible way. Years after that first gig, I saw Passion Pit again with a different friend and was just as excited as the first time. This band will always represent my early teens when I was still discovering my taste in music, but I’m happy to say they’ve proved their longevity, and are here to stay.