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The Boston band have been getting mired in buzz since last year’s Chunk of Change EP, and with their debut full-length, Manners, just out on Frenchkiss in the States and Columbia in the rest of the world, there’s no reason Passion Pit shouldn’t be ubiquitous by year’s end. But that doesn’t mean these college-age fellows are biting their nails in anticipation.
“We’ve been conscious of the buzz because everyone keeps asking us about it,” says synth/sampler player Ayad al Adhamy by phone as he boards a boat for Passion Pit’s New York release party. “But it’s been good. It’s not giving us any pressure. It’s like, ‘Now we can do something, and it’s going to be legit.’”
The band’s overnight appeal is easy to grasp after a single taste of Manners, a glittery mingling of taut pop, erupting electronics, disco-worthy falsetto and emotionally frank subject matter. It’s largely the work of Michael Angelakos, who reluctantly built a live band around the whooshing dance pop he’d been crafting on his own. An admitted fan of both Brian Wilson (thus the heavenly vocals and incurable melancholy) and Randy Newman (ditto the bouncy keys and pointed lyrics), Angelakos has been writing songs since age 5, jumping genres and juggling instruments over the years.
“None of us actually played keyboards as our main instrument,” recalls al Adhamy. “We’re all guitar players. We were like, ‘Fuck it, I’m bored with guitars. Let’s play keyboards.’ We practiced for three months and had our first show at Michael’s college. It was really fun, [so we decided] to keep on doing it.”
He notes that while Angelakos wrote and recorded Chunk of Change and most of Manners himself, the other players “put our own personalities into it” when taking the songs on the road. Al Adhamy also says Manners isn’t a departure from the hotly tipped EP, which featured the breakthrough blog track “Sleepyhead,” but rather a more evolved extension of it. He’s right: The spirit is very much the same, although Chunk of Change feels slightly more crunchy and introverted by comparison.
“They’re both Passion Pit,” he quips. “The main difference is the resources available. Michael recorded a lot of [Chunk of Change’s] vocals through a laptop mic, so it’s pretty primitive. Now that we have a label involved, he has a recording studio and a wealth of gear. So it sounds bigger and more delicate. It’s pretty similar, but a year and a half apart. It’s like seeing someone after not seeing them for a while: [They’re] more mature and older.”
Al Adhamy cites the band’s dual relationship with the revered indie label Frenchkiss and inveterate major Columbia as “this really nice marriage,” and he credits blogs for running with “Sleepyhead,” positioning Passion Pit as the next Vampire Weekend. Built on stuttered, sped-up vocal samples and Angelakos’ yearning yelp, “Sleepyhead” elicits the same sort of instant goose bumps as “Crazy,” “D.A.N.C.E.” and other eerily viral hits of the past few years. It’s also included on Manners, though the album’s first single is the more upbeat, electronic “The Reeling.”
“Whether ‘Sleepyhead’ will be a single, I’m not sure anyone has decided yet,” says al Adhamy, adding that “The Reeling” is not his favorite song. Still, he notes, “When we played it for the first time [recently], it got a fucking awesome reception, and that invigorated us a bit more.” His favorites are the more pop-based “Let Your Love Grow Tall” and the glitzy sing-along “Little Secrets.” Individual flavor aside, each song is insidiously catchy and just as likely to spark a worldwide love-in as an inevitable backlash. And yet Passion Pit’s sunny, jittery sound is balanced always by Angelakos’ raw, vulnerable lyrics.
“I think that helps a lot,” al Adhamy says. “If you’re going to be sugary bubblegum pop, you’ll appeal to a lot of people quickly, but if it’s poppy with a darker undertone, you’re putting yourself into it [more]. Michael definitely puts a lot of himself into it when he writes lyrics. It helps people relate to it more. If people can relate and still feel good listening to it, I think that’s a good thing.”