It’s always nice when an incredibly hyped band manages to live up to the unfair expectations hoisted on them on the strength of an EP. Rather than have to deal with the bullshit of a bunch of cantankerous asshole critics attempting to backpedal at the speed of light, everyone can just breathe a sigh of relief and be content that their overwrought premature praise paid off for once. I missed out on Passion Pit’s hype; when their debut EP Chunk of Change came out, I was avoiding music criticism so that I’d stop giving myself ulcers from frustration. I caught the band on their tour with French rookie Yelle and picked up the EP simply because I thought the band put on a stellar live show. Several months and a new writing gig later, here I am examining whether the band was worth the praise I miraculously avoided hearing, but I have to say that the group has more than held their own with their debut full-length Manners.
Where Chunk of Change was a nice enough little sampler, complete with an origin story for the group that wouldn’t be out of place in the subplot of a 1960s Marvel comic, it wasn’t really great. It held a lot of promise, mostly due to killer single “Sleepyhead,” which returns here completely unaltered, but it didn’t feel like the work of a fully realized entity. This was almost certainly due to the EP primarily being the work of Michael Angelakos on his own rather than that of a partnership between man and band.
Manners by comparison feels fully formed, a perfectly realized vision of a bright young songwriter whose music is refreshingly unpretentious. The album couldn’t possibly begin more perfectly than it does with “Make Light,” an unabashedly straightforward pop number with guitars straight out of an early Stiff Records single and a bass line that is marvelous in its simplicity, all sustained notes with bright little octave runs thrown in here and there. The song immediately makes it clear that Manners is an album uninterested in being difficult or complex just for the sake of art; Angelakos is interested in crafting memorable pop that can sit comfortably alongside both the likes of fellow ’80s-indebted funsters like Chromeo and the more post-punk influenced guitar bands that share a label with the group.
For every raucous party anthem like “The Reeling,” there’s a more introspective, C86-derived number like “Moth’s Wings.” The flow of Manners is impeccable, paced perfectly with just the right amount of downtime between the up-tempo tracks, with just the right amount of distance between spare atmospheric moments and keyboard-stuffed dance songs. In fact, what’s most surprising about the album is that the group’s previously most noteworthy song, “Sleepyhead,” is one of their lesser numbers within the context of the release.
Still there is a disclaimer that must be filed. If Angelakos’ vocals bugged you before, that likely won’t change now. Angelakos’ voice can sometimes sound like the male equivalent of Cyndi Lauper, or a tone-deaf Prince; it shouldn’t be a deal breaker given how uniformly excellent the music itself is, but if you’re the sort who can’t handle an overly nasal delivery, you should avoid Manners. For everyone else, Manners is a truly great debut, easily overshadowing the EP it follows and handily paving the way for even better things from Passion Pit.