I can’t get enough of Fla-Vor-Ice. Ice pops are my favorite kind of pops. Better than push pops, soda pops, King of Pops. You just slip 'em into your mouth. So sweet, so blue. I love blue. I also decided that my favorite kind of sauce is honey sauce. If I had to eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be burritos. But my second choice would be honey sauce. Today I built my fort in the woods. It’s kind of like monkey bars, but awesome. I think I wanna go to Chuck E. Cheese tonight, because it’s my birthday. This will be my 22nd year on this planet, and I still have yet to achieve existential satisfaction. Talk to you later, diary.
That’s how I imagine Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos: an 8-year-old at heart, but self-consciously worried that his art doesn't deal with intellectual questions or bask in naked introspection. According to the band’s website, their debut LP, Manners, is about “redemption,” “paranoia,” “guilt,” “the end of the world,” and “learning to love someone other than the man in the mirror.” And, upon a closer inspection of the lyrics, sure, I guess all that stuff is in there. Yet everything about the Massachusetts quintet’s debut record, Manners, bustles with prepubescent energy—from the swirling pop hooks to the adrenaline rush to Angelakos’ two-more-years-till-puberty singing style. Hell, there are even three appearances from a children’s choir. This album speaks more to me about trampolines than it does of the apocalypse.
I doubt there's another synth-pop record as archetypal and “in your face” as Manners. After Passion Pit’s debut EP Chunk of Change, Angelakos added a full band, most of them having some sort of electro/laptop duty. The effect is that of unrelenting keyboard and samples, layered and loud, swirling and pushed to the max as hooks blend on top of other hooks. It’s like piling sugar and syrup onto a candy bar—almost excessively sweet, yet impossible not to enjoy. The jumble of synths feels like a cross between Daft Punk, Postal Service, and a more impressive version of that “Run Away” song by German Eurodance act Real McCoy (check out the outro to “Folds in Your Hands” to hear what I’m talking about.)
Angelakos’s persistent and masculinity-defying falsetto is another matter. Your enjoyment of the record may hinge on your threshold for high-pitched noises and your opinion on Angelakos’ vocal excursions into the heavens. His falsetto existed on Chunk of Change as well, but the context has altered: that EP was solely written and recorded for the ears of his girlfriend. There, his high octaves—that endearingly venture in and out of tune—break, as if to say, “I’m so fragile, baby.”
On Manners, the falsetto is a soaring force, piercing and precisely in tune, but still wildly high. It’s there on the steady opener, “Make Light” as Angelakos somehow nails an absurdly high E while commenting on vague frustration: “So I try and I scream and I beg and I sigh just to prove I'm alive.” It’s there on “The Reeling,” as Angelakos lives around a fairly difficult C while continuing to vent his angst, asking, “Here I am, oh here I am, oh when will someone understand?” He concludes, “Now I’m dreaming someone would simply come and kidnap me.”
That’s where Angelakos' prose renders itself useless—only Celine Dion could hit those notes and still pack an emotional punch—but it doesn’t really matter at this point. The performance in and of itself is such a spectacle and such a giddy rush of synth joy that dour sentiments are irrelevant. Why Angelakos continues to produce scatterbrained dance music while he’s dwelling on vaguely depressing matters is beyond me (therapeutic, perhaps?). But in the dichotomy that is Passion Pit—the carelessly enjoyable dance music and Passion Pit: the dissertation on my numbing existence—audiences will be willing to look past the latter to get a sugar high on the former.