When I posted my favorite albums of 2009, Passion Pit's debut full-length Manners was on that list. Now, the album has been re-released with three bonus tracks and new packaging. The biggest test of an album is how it holds up over time. My opinions of some albums have changed over time and not necessarily for the better. Fortunately, Manners remains excellent nearly a year after its initial release. The three bonus tracks may not be enough for fans to double-dip but this release is perfect for anyone just discovering the group.
Passion Pit is led by Michael Angelakos, who provides both the songwriting and lead vocals. The vocals are perhaps the biggest potential obstacle to enjoying this group. Angelakos's falsetto is not for everyone. There are times when it can be a bit grating such as on the opening song of Manners, "Make Light." Most of the time, though, the music makes up for (and works with) any issues with the vocals.
The main thing that makes Manners such a great album is how you never quite know what to expect musically. On paper, something like "Sleepyhead" shouldn't turn out as well as it did. The song takes samples from a song by Irish harpist and singer Mary O'Hara and speeds them up. The manipulated samples are paired with pounding drums, synths, and hand claps. The result has an intense, otherworldly feel that leaves you a little woozy as well as happy that it's less than three minutes long.
"Little Secrets" mixes more seemingly incongruent elements: 1980's electropop, funk, and singing kids. It's one of three tracks on Manners to feature background vocals by the PS 22 Chorus. The kids add a playful element to the track which distracts you from the darkness of the lyrics.
The same is true of another track, "The Reeling." This song has a dancefloor-ready beat but the lyrics are most certainly not happy: "Look at me / Oh, look at me / Is this the way I'll always be?" When the kids chime in, you can't help but smile a little bit making this song both fun and pathetic at the same time.
Other songs on the album are a bit more straightforward. "Swimming In The Flood" is one of the more beautiful tracks on the album. It's a relatively mellow track that benefits from some nice strings. "Folds In Your Hands" is one of the most energetic songs on the album. It starts off more poppy before becoming a full-on dance track. "Eyes As Candles" feels like the best mid-tempo pop song the 1980's never produced.
The three bonus tracks on this new edition of Manners are quite good. The first two are stripped down versions of "Sleepyhead" and "Moth's Wings." Each song is pared down to primarily vocals and an instrument. The results are stunning.
In the case of "Sleepyhead," what was a mesmerizing attack of sounds becomes a surprisingly intimate piano ballad. "Moth's Wings" also gets an interesting treatment as all its intricacies are boiled down to simple guitar. These tracks make the case that an MTV Unplugged-style release from this group would be great.
The final bonus track is a cover of The Cranberries' hit "Dreams." It works quite well mainly because while synths replace guitars and the tempo is faster, the song's heart remains.
Manners remains one of my favorite albums released in 2009. It gets better and better with each listen and has enough good tracks for a new one to become your favorite each time. I always liked the musical aspects of this album but revisiting it for this review made me appreciate the lyrics too (they are printed in the booklet).
The bonus tracks only reaffirm this group's talent. It will be very interesting to see where their sound takes them on future releases. Ultimately, if you've heard a track or two by Passion Pit in a commercial or a TV show, take a chance and check out this album. It is definitely well worth your time.